Jeremy Saulnier’s cold, brooding film Hold The Dark premiered to eager audience in the hot swelter of Austin’s Fantastic Fest 2018. Saulnier has made a name for himself in genre film by exploring the brutality and reality of characters in perilous situations. 2016’s Green Room gave us a taste for blood and we cheered through it’s visceral display of practical effects but Hold The Dark reminds us that violence is a very real thing, and happens in a very real way to people who are rarely deserving of such a tragic end.
Heavier on dialogue than Saulnier’s previous films, Hold The Dark‘s real power lies in quiet, stoic performances from it’s entire cast. Key moments in the film where we would expects long explanation are left with single word responses or glances that carry more emotion than any speech ever would. Joel and Ethan Coen for years have been working with the believe that this world is no country for old men, but Hold The Dark will give you the sense that this is no country for mankind at all. We are the spirits that drift on the wind, in eternal struggle.
“Hold The Dark is by far the most unsettling film Saulnier has directed and might be his best work to date.”
Hold The Dark follows Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), a tired and retired wolf tracker who has made the long trek up to rural Alaska to help a mother, Medora (Riley Keough), hunt the wolf that has taken her young son and two other young children in their camp. Russell knows that this is an extremely rare situation but tells himself that the trip will give him an opportunity to help this poor woman find closure, and hopefully find time to visit his own daughter. Medora’s husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) is another world away, fighting in the armed forces when his son goes missing. We’re unsure if he’s been notified of his son’s death but his actions in that war-ridden dessert introduce him as a man who does not fear death.
Vernon’s arrival back home sets in motion an irreversible series of events that pull every character in the film into a deep, dark pit of despair and suffering. Nowhere Vernon walks is safe. With him follows a turbulent whirlwind of retribution from people with nothing left to lose. The relationship between the townsfolk and police is strained at best and when officers come to offer support, they are met by bitter, unforgiving natives in an existential crisis. For too long these people have been left to care for themselves, and no amount of sympathetic shoulders could possibly heal their wounds. Russel knows that there is a storm on the horizon, but he stays to help track down this new breed of wolf that has began to roam the land.
Hold The Dark is by far the most unsettling film Saulnier has directed and might be his best work to date. Given that film will soon be released on Netflix to enjoy in the comfort of your own home, I was very happy to have had the opportunity to experience the movie on the big screen. Shot almost entirely on location, Hold The Dark also features an incredible and gorgeous depiction of a harsh, unforgiving land. The score is also super effective and serves the story so well with the addition of native american chanting to an unnerving dread-filled soundscape.
Unlike Saulnier’s previous work, when bullets start flying you want so desperately for it to end. No one involved deserves any of the tragedy that befalls them and you are genuinely concerned for everyone involved. We spend enough time investing in our cast to feel sorrow for each death, on either side of the aisle. Death is a messy business and when the sun finally rises in this cold, inhospitable land, no one’s hands are clean. Hold The Dark is a dark cat and mouse story about tortured souls possessed by demons of circumstance. You will find very few people to cheer for in Hold The Dark but plenty to sympathize with and regrettably mourn.
“Hold The Dark is a dark cat and mouse story about tortured souls possessed by demons of circumstance.”
Adapted from William Giraldi’s novel of the same name by longtime friend and frequent collaborator Macon Blair, Hold The Dark marks Saulnier’s first film with streaming juggernaut Netflix. The film stars Jeffrey Wright (Westworld, Casino Royale), Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Mute), James Badge Dale (The Departed, World War Z), Riley Keough (It Comes At Night, Under The Silver Lake) who all deliver incredibly powerful performances.
Hold The Dark premieres on Netflix on September 28th. The film celebrated its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2018. Check out all of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantastic Fest coverage here!