Cinema Review: Hold the Dark | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Hold the Dark

Studio: Netflix
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

Sep 28, 2018 Web Exclusive
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After a pair of knockout genre films in recent years (Blue Ruin and Green Room), director Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark arrives on Netflix with a greater set of expectations. Those previous films are slow burns that crank tension within an inch of boiling over and deliver violent payoffs that are simultaneously exciting and stomach churning.

Hold the Dark is, similarly, a very slow affair. The problem is its pace often stutters into tedium rather than anticipation, and it’s ultimately a disappointment following such rousing successes in his filmography.

Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is a writer and wolf expert called to a remote Alaskan village by Medora Slone (Riley Keough) when her missing son is believed to have been abducted by wolves. Russell arrives, and the young mother is distraught about her son as well as her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) who is in the Middle East with the military. Russell goes on his solitary search for the missing boy and the wolves, tracking them through the gorgeous and unrelenting Alaskan wilderness. He finds the wolves, but not the boy, and can’t shoot them when he has the chance. Later, he discovers Medora has vanished and her son’s corpse is revealed to have been in the cellar all along.

Russell joins the investigation led by local sheriff Donald Mariam (James Badge Dale) and they encounter Vernon as he returns from service duty. Vernon, similarly, wants to find his wife, but he has different motivations. He kills the deputies and the coroner after Russell and the sheriff leave the scene and embarks on his own search while Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope) helps cover his tracks and distracts the police long enough for him to get a head start. The rest of the story follows two threads – Russell’s and Vernon’s – in search of Medora while exploring the darkness within and without.

Cheeon’s story is, unfortunately, short-changed. He and the sheriff have a tense conversation on Cheeon’s doorstep about life in the village of Keelut, where he and the Slone’s both lived. The bulk of the population there is indigenous and there is a certain amount of animosity that is both personal and historical between the two. Cheeon sees a dying village and a lack of purpose in the time since he lost his family while the sheriff sees a broken, volatile man covering for his childhood friend. Both men are tiptoeing around the chat, though Cheeon quickly feels emboldened, though he retreats into the darkness of his a-frame home without betraying any useful information.

Then he shoots a lot of people from the loft of his home.

Saulnier’s films have often alternated between subtlety and explicit violence. It’s been a useful tactic, and often results in shocking surprises. In Green Room, as the protagonist punk band is trying to fend off their assailants and believe to have a deal, Pat (Anton Yelchin) reaches his hand out of the door. His arm is promptly grabbed and hacked at with a machete. It happens off-screen, with the sharp chopping sounds leaving it up to the audience’s imagination before revealing just how mangled his arm is. Green Room is filled with moments like that. The shootout in Hold the Dark may be in the same ballpark in terms of shock-factor, but it is both absurd and goes on far too long. The police being slaughtered are sacrificial lambs, red shirts, a body count without any real consequence, and it cheapens the outcome.

There is an interesting story that could be told here about those who know the land intimately and the outsiders who trespass and think they know better. Instead, Cheeon’s own plight is erased and replaced with automatic gunfire. The subtlety in this film isn’t amplified by the onslaught, instead it’s muted and rendered unimportant, because…hey, look, action!

The Slones are also an irritating couple of characters in general. They are the only white people in this village – the police are all from the city – and, of course, they are the main characters or, at least, the ones depicted as the most important. Maybe William Giraldi’s novel expands on this, but it feels like a missed opportunity to cast indigenous performers in lead roles instead of merely serving in supporting ones. That said, with Vernon clearly being depicted as the film’s villain, were he recast with an indigenous man that may have brought about another set of problems. The point is, indigenous representation remains woefully inadequate in cinema and Hold the Dark doesn’t really make much headway despite Antelope and Tantoo Cardinal appearing in prominent roles.

And while everyone is top notch in the roles they’re given – it’s no surprise that Jeffrey Wright delivers a good performance – and Magnus Nordenhof Jonck’s photography deftly captures the unforgiving, punishing cold of the Alaskan snow-filled landscape, the pacing never finds its footing. It’s not slow, it’s plodding and ponderous and it only occasionally digs its hooks in.

That’s not to say it’s all a monotonous mess. Hold the Dark still features many of the hallmarks that made Saulnier’s previous films so engaging. Vernon’s mythical awakening could be more silly than terrifying, but the way he’s shot in silhouette and from below when he dons the wolf mask effectively displays how imposing he is – and it mostly makes up for the useless aside in the desert while he’s on active duty. Hold the Dark is a frustrating disappointment that shows flashes of what we’ve come to expect from Saulnier while also failing to live up to the standard he’s set.


Author rating: 4/10

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Average reader rating: 4/10


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Harry Louis
September 30th 2018

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John Crew
October 7th 2018

very interesting film, at the beginning of the story explained that Russell Core was a very tough man. until the end of the story, this film deserves to be watched like a bokep indo movie