‘Hold the Dark’ Review: A Bleak Look at Life in the Alaska Wilderness
We open up in a tiny, isolated Alaskan town of Keelut. It’s winter, and a young boy is playing with some plastic army men in the snow. He hears something and looks around to see a wolf staring at him. We cut to inside the house the boy was playing outside of. The boy’s mother, Medora (Riley Keough), closes a padlock on a door, then makes tea with a teapot that is whistling. She opens up the front door and stares out into the distance. We see the army men that the boy was playing with still stuck in the snow.
Medora has written a letter (that we hear her read outlaid) to Russel Core (Jeffery Wright) a writer who specializes in wolves. In the letter, Medora explains that in addition to her son being taken by wolves three days ago, two other children were taken by wolves earlier in the year. We see through the window of an apartment that a man unplugs outdoor Christmas lights and we hear a car start. As we look around the room filled with wolf drawings, Medora explains that she wants Russel to come to her town and kill the wolf that took her son. On a plane we see Russel reading the letter as Medora explains her husband is in the Army and is fighting overseas but will be home soon. We see Russel arrive at his destination, rent a truck. As he travels what seems a long distance, he comes across a buffalo in the road and later a dog sledder traveling parallel to the road.
Russel drives into the small town, full of wooden buildings, dogs tied up outside and plenty of snow on the ground. He gets out of his truck and is greeted at the door by Medora, who looks down at the book he wrote and looks up saying ‘Your old.” Over coffee, Russel explains that he will try to help her. Medora talks about how he had done this before, killed a killer wolf. They discuss that Russel has a grown daughter and that he is no longer with his wife. Medora talks about how she hasn’t spoken to her husband about their son’s death because he is in a war.
Medora takes Russel where the wolf took the first boy. She discusses how her husband said he would never leave her, but she says bitterly that he did leave her. They discuss that she wants revenge and that Russel can give it to her. She mentions that there is a hot springs a few hours walk from here, saying ‘It’s a good place to get clean.’ Back in the cabin, they talk about Russel’s home life. She leaves him at the dinner table and goes into her bedroom.
Russel tries to sleep but is wakened up by Medora taking a bath in another room and is muttering herself asking ‘Is he up there? Is he down there?” Russel tires to go back to sleep but Medora comes into the room naked. After pausing after she has entered the room, she slides into bed with a surprised Russel. She takes Russel’s hand and places it over her neck, squeezing down causing her to choke. A frightened Russel pules his hand away, and they both lay there not talking. We cut to outside the house, and a man is looking at the home smoking a cigarette. Nothing in this town seems right or ordinary, and Russel is about to embark on more than a trip to kill a wolf.
And that’s how we start ‘Hold the Dark,’ director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to the outstanding 2015 horror/action film ‘Green Room.’ Like ‘Green Room,’ this film has quite a bit of violence but not have as many scary or satisfying moments as that film did. The film also takes too long to build the suspenseful parts. Alexander Skarsgård plays Medora’s husband who returns from the war injured and visually upset as he finds his only son dead and a strange man in his house. The plot can be confusing at times and tries too hard to be mysterious and mystical.
Cinematographer Magnus Nordenjof Janck perfectly captures the brutal beauty of Alaska and the coldness of a wildness that is unforgiving. You may want to break out the blankets before seeing this film as the coldness of the landscape dominates the film. I liked the direction of Jeremy Saulner but untimely he is let down by a script that tends to meander away from its plot from time to time. Unlike some of his other films, Saulnier’s ‘Hold the Dark’ has too many creepy moments instead of scary ones. I thought the score by Brooke Blair and AlWill Blair did an excellent job of creating the dark and oppressive tone of the film.
Alexander Skarsgard and Riley Keough give interesting, ominous performances, especially Skarsgard, whose character is so tightly wound that you almost expect him to explode at any moment in a million pieces. I was a little let down by Jeffrey Wright’s performance of the world-weary author who is out of his element. His performance was just a little too restrained for the part, I wanted a little more from him.
Hold the Dark has too many stops and starts to build up the tension enough to sustain the film. I thought the primary action sequence in the middle of the film was far too long, and there is a very long, almost painful conversation between the sheriff and a suspect before that sequence starts. I was a little disappointed in ‘Hold the Dark’ as it never quite found its footing and never entirely held my attention and had an ending that wasn’t satisfying.
My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from best to worst:
1) Would Pay to See it Again
2) Full Price
3) Bargain Matinee
5) You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again