Movie Review : Hold the Dark (2018)
I try not to use the word masterpiece in vain. Because it’s what separate stylish and engaging movies from truly special experiences. Jeremy Saulnier’s first movie Blue Ruin was good, but I thought the miserable protagonist and the understated screenplay could’ve used a little fireworks. Same for his sophomore effort Green Room, which was fierce, original and a little too insular to resonate. But Saulnier’s new movie Hold the Dark is a masterpiece. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s a fucking scorcher. I haven’t had this much fun watching a movie since Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive, seven years ago.
Hold the Dark tells the story of Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), a writer and retired naturalist, who’s summoned to the northern village of Keelut, Alaska to find a little boy who was allegedly taken by wolves. His mother Medora Slone (Riley Keough) welcomes him into her humble abode, but quickly starts acting erratically. She walks up to him naked one night, except for a wolf mask on her face. Local people say she’s possessed by the spirit of the wolf and that Core should come back where he comes from. Then, the little boy is found dead, his mother disappears, his badass military dad Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) comes back to town and shit gets daaaarrrkk.
Deep breath. Where do I start?
Let’s talk about Vernon Slone first. What a strange an fascinating character he was. Halfway between a protagonist and an antagonist. He’s a grieving father and the big bad wolf, all wrapped up in one complicated human being. His motivations are relatable, but his actions aren’t. Unlike most characters in the history of everything, he is not guided by a desire to overcome. His friend Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope) says it early in the movie: “when a child dies, the future dies”. And it’s exactly what happens in Hold the Dark. Vernon and Cheeon are not interested in overcoming. They’re not interested in the future. They want to tear down what cost them theirs. They’re like the black plague, except with guns.
Macon Blair’s screenplay is another reason why Hold the Dark works so well. There’s no supernatural occurrences happening per se, but it is highly informed by spirituality. I thought it felt a little too ominous at first, but once I understood the dynamics, it made perfect sense. In every scene (or almost), there’s a character who innocently predicts what’s going to happen further down the line. It takes a little while to set up, but establishes a riotous dynamic after a while. It makes the audience paranoid from one scene to another, going over every line and holding their breath, not knowing which one will turn out to be true. There’s no supernatural in Hold the Dark, but reality is getting quite thin at times.
Hold the Dark was awesome. It skipped every beat and cliché of disappearing kids movies and embraced the chaos and brutality of its remote setting. It’s a movie that commits to its vision without fear or compromise. Many people have been frustrated by its ending and I’m not going to spoil it here, but I’m always opened to debate it via messenger or email. I have a good idea of what happened there. Hold the Dark is brutal. It’s dark, but it’s not wallowing in its own darkness. There’s a point to it. It’s original, clever, fearless. I loved everything about it and it freakin’ primed me up for the new season of True Detective, which is directed by Jeremy Saulnier. By far, the best movie of 2018.