Between Blue Ruin and Green Room, filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier has quickly become one of the filmmakers’ whose projects I most look forward to, as I know I’ll get something completely unexpected. Well, I can typically expect a fair share of realistic depictions of violence and an overall dark outlook on humanity, but he manages to inject those depressing thoughts into narratives full of surprising twists and turns. Hold the Dark hit Netflix right on the cusp of October, so I put off watching it in favor of horror movies that likely wouldn’t depress me as much. Luckily, this strategy paid off, as my delayed viewing resulted in lowered expectations. Hold the Dark is a dark and twisted thriller which puts its competition to shame, even though if the film wasn’t as successful as its predecessors.
In a remote part of Alaska, a mother (Riley Keough) reaches out to a wolf researcher (Jeffrey Wright) in hopes he’ll look into the disappearance of her son. Upon his arrival, the researcher earns a less-than-warm welcome from the community, made all the more uncomfortable by the mother’s bizarre behavior. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of weird shit going on, which is only accelerated when the boy’s father (Alexander Skarsgård) returns home from the war seeking answers.
Hold the Dark is absolutely a Jeremy Saulnier movie, as it takes what could potentially be a predictable thriller and completely turns that notion on its head. Like his previous efforts, there’s little “fun” to be had with this film, as it depicts the death of the child and other characters as the grim realities they are as opposed to the countless revenge thrillers that glamorize violence as you root for the main character to dish out copious amounts of carnage. With this film, audiences can’t help but sympathize with each and every character, no matter what their motivations are and no matter how disturbing their actions might be. In Hold the Dark, violence feels more like a force of nature that descends on a small community the same way a snow storm or, possibly more appropriate, a pack of hungry wolves would arrive and tear through whatever is in its path.
The ambiguity of the film’s events both works in its favor and works against it. Much like the real world, violence doesn’t always need some grand plan and doesn’t cater to your desires to understand it. However, given that this is a film and not the real world, I felt like there was something missing from the final product that either would have confirmed its ambiguous nature or possibly specified some of the narrative threads. I feel like a dick for saying, “I wanted a little bit more, but not too much more, and I also don’t know exactly what ‘more’ means,” yet here we are.
Were it not for such a talented cast to keep you riveted, Hold the Dark might not have been as successful in its exploration of trauma, violence, and isolation, though the performers and Saulnier’s eye for unconventional framing keeps you glued to the screen. Even lesser Saulnier is better than a lot of what else is out there, even if Hold the Dark isn’t a flat-out masterpiece.
Wolfman Moon Scale