With the release of Netflix’s Hold The Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi’s 2014 thriller novel, I’m looking back at the work of Jeremy Saulnier and his ever-present general Macon Blair. Writing and directing all of his feature film releases so far, he seems to have a dark streak that runs through his bones. His history as a cinematographer on numerous films has given him an eye for being able to make his films look great with a minimum of fuss, with Blue Ruin being particularly gorgeous to watch, even if it is unpalatable at times.
Saulnier’s first feature film in 2007, Murder Party, details a lonely man, Christopher, being invited to a Halloween costume “Murder Party” on his street. Set up by a group of deranged art students, it is found out to be a trap in order to commit murder as a piece of artwork to impress a wealthy patron in the hopes of securing a large arts fund. Working with no budget and taking on multiple roles of writer, director and cinematographer, Saulnier put a lot of passion into getting this film made and it is a good beginning, even if it is not in the same class as his later films.
2013’s Blue Ruin is the film that highlighted Saulnier’s talent for writing, directing, and cinematography; sparse and succinct in its storytelling, yet compelling and heartfelt with no small amount of violence that feels entirely appropriate to the unfolding plot. Dwight, a vagrant, who finds out that the murderer of his parents is being released from prison, returns home to deal with this situation, clearly not happy about this man walking free. The tension that follows is fantastically created, and credit must go to both the director and Macon Blair in the role of Dwight, who is almost on-screen the whole way through. No scene is wasted and everything is superbly shot. As a Kickstarter funded film, Saulnier has shown that he is definitely good value for money!
Green Room (2015) takes all the elements from the previous films and ramps up the tension and violence to insane levels. Again written and directed by Saulnier, he has crafted an incredibly tight thriller of claustrophobic proportions. On a budget of $5 million, the film, for all its critical success, failed to break even. Bringing in a wider cast, notably of quality young actors (Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole) along with Macon Blair once again, and the evergreen, and completely fantastic in this, Patrick Stewart.
A hardworking but incredibly skint band, the Ain’t Rights, find a gig opportunity out in the woods at a neo-nazi bar. After performing well on stage, a freak occurrence leads to a hostage and siege situation with the band now trapped in the titular green room with an ever-increasing and enraged group of skinheads/neo-nazis gathering outside. The back and forth between the two opposing groups and the building tension is almost too much at times. Adding, again, a healthy dose of violence and gore on top but not glorifying it, gives Green Room a dark but realistic and unnerving feel.
One of the things running through all these films is violence. But I will say that the violence isn’t just for violence’s sake, there is usually a reason, possibly justified, for perpetrating these actions against the ‘others’. Murder Party is really a Tucker and Dale vs Evil type situation where the assailants try to kill Christopher but end up getting bumped off themselves (payback!). Blue Ruin really follows Dwight’s beliefs that his family have been treated unfairly, this man has gotten away with the killing of his parents and justice still needs to be done. Green Room is all about survival: the band aren’t the ones who wanted or deserved to be in this situation but it is the brutal nature of Darcy (Patrick Stewart) that leads to the violence being used here, and they deserve that survival instinct kicking in and the band fighting back.
READ MORE: Hold the Dark – Film Review
Although not a Jeremy Saulnier film, in 2017 Macon Blair released his debut feature film through Netflix, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. Maintaining most of the hallmarks of Saulnier’s style of thriller but with a little bit more dark comedy threaded through it, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore manages to continue the good work that the duo have put together.
Nursing assistant Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) has had her house burgled. When the police show little to no interest in helping her get her belongings back it is up to Ruth, and her neighbour Tony (Elijah Wood), to take matters into their own hands. Digging deeper and deeper into the illegal activities surrounding what happened to her possessions leads Ruth and Tony into darker and darker waters, bringing them out of their shells and stretching them in ways that they have never had to experience before.
Overall, these are great indie films that show that with great writing and fantastic direction you can get your films seen and be well received. Jeremy Saulnier, with his solid work in front of and behind the camera, and not to mention writing as well, has catapulted himself into the mainstream but still with an indie bent. With a head for interesting takes on themes he proves himself to be a fantastic film-maker and one to definitely watch out for in the future. His uncompromising sense of visuals and storyline give his films a real impact that makes them feel fresh and interesting.
Whilst his films have not been overly commercially successful he has made a name for himself as a film-maker of some style. The fact that Netflix have picked him up for their latest Original feature, Hold The Dark, with a quality cast onboard (Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, Riley Keough, James Badge Dale), shows that at least someone is paying attention to his work and about time too.