Time: 125 Minutes
Jeffrey Wright as Russell Core
Alexander Skarsgård as Vernon Sloane
James Badge Dale as Donald Marium
Riley Keough as Medora Sloane
Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon
Macon Blair as Shan
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Summoned to a remote Alaskan village to search for the wolves that killed three children, a wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) soon finds himself unravelling a harrowing mystery.
I recently watched through Jeremy Saulnier’s filmography, he seemed to be getting better with every film and having loved Green Room on rewatch, so I was looking forward to his next film Hold the Dark. It actually wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it really worked for me. It’s very ambitious, dark and haunting, with really great performances and as usual Jeremy Saulnier’s direction really was great.
This is a very different kind of movie for Jeremy Saulnier to be taking on. This is the first film that he’s directed that he hasn’t written, instead the script is written by longtime Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair, and the script was really great. It’s based on a book of the same name written by William Giraldi, I don’t know how much the movie differs from the book since I never read it. The plot summary about Jeffrey Wright being hired by Riley Keough to hunt down the wolf who took her child is pretty much just the first act, it takes a very different path after that and I didn’t know this going in. In that it surprised me, and I recommend not going into this movie knowing too much about it. People who are expecting the guy who made Green Room to make a straight forward thriller based in a snowy environment are going to be taken aback at the complex story and the amount of thematic elements to it (the thematic elements I’ll let you find out for yourself). The story is dark, disturbing and haunting, and it just all really worked for me. Something that a lot of people will take issue with is that there are some unanswered questions, especially towards the end. It’s pretty ambiguous with how it ends and I myself am not quite sure about how I feel about it. With that said I didn’t dislike it and I was fine with it, but I can see a lot of people taking issue with it. Also if you’re not completely paying attention to what’s going on, it can be easy to miss some details of the movie. For example, I was paying attention to the movie quite a bit and there was a reveal involving Alexander Skarsgard and Riley Keough’s characters that I missed until hearing it from others after the movie, I don’t know if it was the movie or just me. Saulnier’s films are pretty self contained at around 90 minutes, but Hold the Dark is longer at around 2 hours long. This film takes place over a period of time in various different places, and as previously mentioned is much more complicated. That does mean that the pacing can slow down a little, and some of the tension can be reduced, but it still worked for the type of movie it was going for, and on the whole I was invested from start to finish.
Quite often with Jeremy Saulnier movies, the characters are a little underwritten, but Blair’s script actually gives the main players enough depth. Jeffrey Wright is one of the most underrated actors working together and it’s great watching him lead his own movie. He gives one of his best performances and seems to have a lot going on in his personal life. Unlike Saulnier’s other film protagonists, his character of Russell Core is competent enough for the task ahead of him, yet he still feels rather vulnerable in his situations. I do wish though that we got to know a little more about his character. Alexander Skarsgard is really great and haunting in his role, he’s unnerving when he’s on screen and was such a great screen presence. Riley Keough is also really good in her performance as the mother who hires Jeffrey Wright at the beginning of the movie, definitely deserving of a lot of praise. All the acting is quite great, James Badge Dale is good as a police chief and Macon Blair is also good in a smaller role.
Jeremy Saulnier’s direction is great as usual, Hold the Dark is a much more ambitious film and was on a much larger scale, and he was more than up for the challenge. It feels like it’s convincingly in this snowy and cold environment being rather isolated, it feels very much like Wind River. Saulnier as usual builds up a great atmosphere over the course of the movie, with so many scenes adding to the tension. There is a shootout sequence which is definitely one of the best filmed scenes of 2018. So incredibly tense, violent and captivating from start to finish. I think Hold the Dark might actually be worth watching for that scene alone. The score was done by Brooke and Will Blair, who also did the score to Green Room. Once again it’s really good, suitably chilling and haunting, just like the whole movie.
Hold the Dark is on Netflix and it’s really worth checking out, I know that it didn’t quite work for everyone, but it’s one of my favourite films of 2018. It’s a very affecting and gripping movie, with great writing and performances and fantastic direction. It may not answer all the questions that are posed earlier on, but it nonetheless was an effective movie, and one that I loved. It’s around about at the level of Green Room, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jeremy Saulnier’s future work.