‘Hold the Dark’ Review: Brutal, Uncompromising Cinema From the ‘Green Room’ Guys

Chris Tilly
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Movies Streaming Horror Netflix
of 5
Review Essentials
  • Slow, stately pace
  • Shocking bursts of violence
  • Beautiful visuals
  • Exceptional performances
  • Asks tough questions of characters/audience
  • Maybe too much open to interpretation

Hold the Dark screened at Fantastic Fest and hits Netflix September 28, 2018.

What is Hold the Dark?

An expert in wolves is summoned to North Alaska to investigate the disappearance of a child. The boy’s mother is grief-stricken, and he helps her to heal. But when her husband returns from the war, it sets off a shocking and violent chain of events.

Challenging Material

With the colourful one-two punch of Blue Ruin and Green Room, writer Macon Blair and director Jeremy Saulnier announced themselves as master filmmakers who specialise in tension and violence. And while Hold the Dark is their first adaptation — being a film version of William Giraldi’s 2014 novel of the same name — the movie nevertheless feels like a continuation of their work, both visually and thematically. It’s also their most challenging movie yet, the film asking tough questions of its characters, but offering no easy answers.

Jeffrey Wright delivers a wonderfully understated performance as Russell Core, a naturalist, writer, and expert in wolves. While Riley Keough is magnificent as Madora Slone, whose young son has gone missing, and is presumed to have been taken by wolves.

She asks Core for help. Not to find her son, because she know in her heart he’s dead. Rather to find the wolf that took him, and kill it. A bizarre bond forms between the pair, one that’s underpinned by sexual tension. And Core helps her confront her loss so she can maybe move on.

We then meet Medora’s husband Vernon Slone (Alexander Skarsgård) a soldier on patrol in Fallujah. And a man who seems to enjoy violence, his introduction both brutal and tough to watch. So when he’s sent home and discovers that his son is dead, and there’s a strange man in his house, Vernon isn’t happy.

Flawed Characters

Though what follows is entirely unexpected, with both Vernon and Medora’s motives unclear for much of the movie, forcing the viewer to question what we see and hear. Hold the Dark isn’t filled with dialogue, but every line spoken seems to count, while at times hints and clues can be picked up from what isn’t said by these flawed figures.

Vernon ends up on the run, while Medora disappears, their separate journeys allowing Saulnier to explore the cold, stark Alaskan wilderness. With the landscapes as barren and unforgiving as the film’s characters.

While Core teams up with policeman Donald Marium (James Badge Dale), two decent men trying to try to make sense of what Vernon is doing. And endeavouring to stop him before he kills again.

Those kills both shock and stun, with one particular shoot-out as impressive as anything Saulnier has filmed thus far. The violence beautifully stage-managed, and the bullets carrying real weight.

Indeed at times the film feels less like a thriller and more like a very modern western, albeit one that examines fatherhood, revenge, war, and even Native American mysticism as the story becomes ever-more surreal.

Is Hold the Dark Good?

Hold the Dark is exceptional filmmaking by a writer and director improving with each feature. It tells a troubling tale, via sombre words and performances. And much of what happens is open to interpretation, which might frustrate some viewers.

But if you are prepared to give yourself up to the strange nature of proceedings, the story is a rewarding one. Which might haunt you, and will definitely stay with you for days. But as you decode the secrets hidden within, it becomes clear that Hold the Dark is powerful and uncompromising cinema of the very highest order.

Chris Tilly
FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I'm Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.
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