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Review: Hold the Dark [spoiler free]

November 3, 2018

This week we’re journeying deep into the foreboding Alaskan wilderness in pursuit of Wolves with Netflix original Hold the Dark. It’s one you might have missed (as I almost did), so let’s see why it might be worth a look this Halloween week.

[insert mournful wolf howl here]

Why now?

Hold the Dark was released on 28 September and made it on to Netflix at the start of October.

In a nutshell

Wolf expert and writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is contacted by Medora Sloane (Riley Keough) after her 6-year-old son goes missing from their Alaskan village, Keelut. Medora wants Core to hunt down and kill the wolves responsible for taking and presumably eating her little boy, the same wolves that have killed other children in the area.

Meanwhile, Medora’s husband Vernon Sloane (Alexander Skarsgård) is fighting for the US military in Iraq, where he clearly thrives in a such a bloodthirsty environment. After suffering an injury, he is sent home.

Core very quickly begins to unravel a dark and disturbing mystery surrounding Medora and Vernon that escalates rapidly when Vernon arrives back in Alaska, leading to plenty of open human conflict and brooding wolfish violence.

Who’s it for?

This is a dark movie (literally and figuratively) with some genuinely disturbing visuals and bloody scenes. It varies between being very loud and so quiet you almost can’t make out the dialogue, so prepare to be patient and follow the narrative carefully. If you’re looking for something as action-packed as The Grey, for instance, you’re watching the wrong movie.

Who’s in it?

Jeffrey Wright takes the lead on this one, playing the pained and long-suffering Russell Core admirably. Wright’s gravelly voice and understated acting style will draw you in nicely, especially if you’ve seen him in Westworld recently. Medora and Vernon are played by Sloane Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgård respectively, and they both do a fine job of giving you the creeps throughout. Skarsgård carries most of the threat throughout the movie, but Keough is central to the properly-disturbing moment early on in the film.

The good stuff

I chose to watch this movie on Halloween night because it looked scary (and I had Trick or Treaters to attend to all evening). I also really liked The Grey and thought this might be similar. There are wolves, yes, but the people in the film provide the real chills. Director Jeremy Saulnier is all about slow pacing and visuals that never allow you to settle – just when you think you’ve got a handle on what’s going on, the narrative takes a swing to the left and you’re back to square one.

But I liked that. I enjoy films that try something different, and I especially love when the setting itself becomes another character in the movie (think Fortitude before the second season pulled it off track). Alaska is made to feel like a dark and dangerous place with an ever-growing sense of isolation, in which every character on screen is either expendable or the one doing the expending.

The not so good stuff

I had just two main gripes with this film.

Firstly, some scenes feel as though they’re dragged out far too much – one of the few action-oriented parts of the movie goes on way too long and almost had me losing interest after a while. Other viewers may find the general length of the film to be an issue.

Secondly, there is one very important aspect to the storyline that went completely over my head, and I only realised what I’d missed after I read a synopsis of the movie. I don’t normally miss major plot points but this one was very subtle. It was definitely there, but you almost had to know where to look, which I didn’t. And it’s pretty key to tying the whole movie together, so if you miss it, the whole experience feels a little flat. The movie also ends very abruptly with no real payoff, so be prepared to be a little disappointed there.

The bottom line

Hold the Dark is a chilling movie that’s definitely worth a watch. It’s more of a commentary on the savagery of the human condition and will certainly leave you with a few things to think about afterwards. However, it sometimes gets bogged down in its own gloomy narrative and could have been more than it was in the end.

Still, give it a viewing and allow yourself to be immersed in the experience – you may not be too keen on visiting Alaska afterwards, though.

Verdict: (3 / 5)

David McIlroy
Freelance writer/contributor based in Northern Ireland. Degrees in English, Film and Youth Work. Married to the beautiful Christine. My main things: God, family, movies, reading, and Liverpool FC.

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