In a cold Alaskan town, three children are dead after being kidnaped by wolves. A worried mother Medora Slone (Riley Keough) whose six-year-old son is missing hires writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to track down her boy in the snowy wilderness. Knee-deep in snow Core goes out to locate the boy’s remains only to find nothing and recognize there’s something a bit off with Medora. When Medora’s long-life partner, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård), is back from the war, he’s left with a dead son, a missing wife, a baffled writer and a determined policeman.
Written and directed by friends Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair, Hold the Dark is an unexpected dramatic mystery that morphs into a graphically violent storyline that makes you go “what??” Based on the William Giraldi novel by the same name, the movie is a voyage into the darkness that delivers enough intrigue and visual quality that does a lot of justice to the Alaskan surroundings with its beautifully mysterious shots being its biggest selling point. The cold storyline and isolated setting of the fictional small town of Keelut depict a depressing place that’s taken more than its fair share of misery. In Inuit ( a group of Arctic regions inhabitants) mythology, Keelut means an evil chthonic spirit who resembles a hairless dog. And much like its origins, the town itself inhabits enough evil to scare anyone. Although warned by the town’s elder, Core remains faithful to the cause until he sees something far worse than he hoped.
Jeremy Saulnier is well familiar with hyper-violence and gore-ish details as I’ve seen in his previous heavy-metal thriller Green Room. You’ll get a hefty portion of blood shedding, throat-cutting, stabbing, and gun shooting more than you probably can handle, and Hold the Dark
tedious over 5-minute shootout is a proof. Violence for the sake of violence is often used in films, but the fact that Hold the Dark is a drama based movie, the extreme violence here is as I mentioned, unexpected. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t lost at some point, because that’s what happens when the story transforms on you like that, but I learned to let go and realize I’m not going to figure out everything in life, let alone in a movie. Perhaps that’s the beauty of it all.
Like Green Room, Hold the Dark feels confined and unsettling with characters forced into situations beyond their comprehension and the way out is almost impossible. But unlike the former, this one embraces the human vs. nature, more of the demonic and ritualistic (i.e. wolf masks).
Saulnier recruits a great cast to do his “dirty work” on here as well, starring Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough, and Alexander Skarsgård, who like his father (Stellan Skarsgård), knows to manipulate both good and bad characters extremely well. In this one, he’s the angry father who’ll stop at nothing to get his vengeance. Jeffrey Wright is forever on my good list for his Basquiat (1996) role.
Considering its long duration of 2 hours and 5 minutes, Hold the Dark ended rather loosely, leaving me, the poor viewer, alone and confused. I guess it’s one of those movies you need to watch more than once to dig up details missed before. Again, it’s long so it’s also an investment. Your call.