You can, to adjust a phrase, see the forest for the trees in “Go With Me” — if only because mist-shrouded woodland scenery is about the only distinguished feature of Daniel Alfredson’s turgid, tension-free revenge thriller. Adapting Castle Freeman Jr.’s slim, well-regarded novel into a film of equivalent brevity but markedly little momentum, this straightforward tale of three mismatched justice-seekers on the trail of a local logging-country psycho conceals any trace of artistry or wit in its paper-mill pulp. Given strangely little bluster by a muted, disengaged Anthony Hopkins — whose recent line in glazed ham would at least have livened up a gloomy exercise — “Go With Me” won’t find many auds to take up its eponymous invitation.
Alfredson made his name in 2009 with the second two films in the original Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy, seguing earlier this year into English-lingo filmmaking with the shaky Euro-thriller “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken,” also starring Hopkins. “Go With Me” is unlikely to secure him directorial assignments more illustrious than this kind of VOD fodder, though he does bring a certain bleak Scandi-noir gloss to its unspecified slice of the Pacific Northwest — relocated from the novel’s setting of Vermont, but represented onscreen by British Columbia.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to guess where exactly this hard little story takes place, given the lack of regional flavor in the workaday dialogue and the fact that Hopkins’s character, while a fixture of the area, seemingly takes regular vacations to Swansea for elocution training. Scribes Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs notionally retain the novel’s most eccentric narrative conceit: a kind of indigenous Greek chorus, made up of grizzled, seen-it-all onlookers who observe and comment on the action at hand. Their contribution is too cursory and irregular to give proceedings much spark; what could have been a “Winter’s Bone”-style marriage of genre storytelling and earthy local idiom is instead a simple story most functionally told.
Tightening her jaw and making the best of it, Julia Stiles plays Lillian, a local daughter who has recently returned home after a spell in Seattle. Inheriting the rural home of her late mother and making ends meet with waitressing and substitute teaching gigs, she finds her quietly independent new life disrupted by the unnerving presence of Blackway (Liotta), a hoodlum widely feared in the area, who stalks and menaces the young woman for reasons that never become obvious. When he attacks Lillian in her home, she oddly decides against alerting the authorities; when her mother’s cat turns up headless on the doorstep, she decides enough is enough. A local sheriff, however, tells her that she may as well leave town, since the police can do nothing to control Blackway, a former deputy. (Again, no explanation for this curious state of affairs is offered: “Go With It,” by this point, would be a more appropriate title.)
The sheriff does refer her, however, to a weathered group of timberyard menfolk, presided over by the crusty Whizzer (a wasted Hal Holbrook); one of them, he says, may be able to help her. Lester (Hopkins) isn’t the man he (or she) has in mind, but he’s the lone volunteer. Roping in Nate (Alexander Ludwig), a hulking, slow-witted young man to whom Lester has a fatherly attachment, and a daunting arsenal of backwoods firearms, they set off to track down the elusive Blackway. It’s a search short on twists and revelations, leading to an equally unspectacular faceoff; what might work on the page as pared-back plotting to sustain more vivid expression of character falls flat on screen. Despite Lillian’s plainly imperilled position, and the allusion to Lester’s own tragic backstory, the film’s yarn rarely seems more than anecdotal.
Hopkins’ presence as a producer here might imply some personal investment in the project, though you wouldn’t guess from his shrugging, low-temperature turn — if a degree of weariness seems appropriate in playing the long-suffering Lester, the actor might have overshot a tad. Stiles isn’t given much more to play than stout resolve, which she does well enough; Liotta is tasked with husky, sinister villain mechanics, which he doesn’t. Though saddled with some mannered vocal and physical tics, Ludwig registers as the most engagingly, fallibly human presence here, even if his role hardly adds up to more than the others.
Widescreen lensing by Rasmus Videbaek (“A Royal Affair,” “Virgin Mountain”) is on the murky side, but it does conjure up some boilerplate atmosphere in the pic’s frosty interiors and long-shadowed fir woodlands. Said atmosphere is then decidedly overegged by composers Klas Wahl and Anders Niska’s swarming score, which, like the script, does little to enhance the film’s sense of place.