Jeremy Saulnier's latest film, Hold the Dark, has arrived on Netflix, weaving a dark tale filled with mystery and tension. While the story may leave you scratching your head, it will also keep you riveted and thinking about it for a long time. Come inside to check out my full review.
I think I’ve started/re-started it about four times since I watched the film when it debuted on Netflix last week. There’s a LOT to unpack in this movie, and as I began sorting out everything I’d seen, my feelings on it would change back and forth.
The film itself is based on a novel of the same name by William Giraldi and follows, roughly, the same plot. A wolf expert, Russell Core, is contacted by a desperate Mother, Medora, who claims her son has been taken/killed by wild wolves. Called to help track them down, and kill them, Russell finds himself pulled to the remote village of Keelut in the Alaskan wilderness.
With her husband, Vernon, deployed overseas, Russell feels compelled to use his expert knowledge to assist…What he finds when he gets there, however, is a far deeper mystery far beyond anything he was expecting.
Frankly, that’s about as barebones a description of this movie I can give without delving into spoilers best saved for watching. Seriously, that’s just enough to get you through the first 10-15 minutes of the movie before things take some unexpected turns. What ultimately happens is a chase with even more twists and an ending you won’t see coming.
I’m going to keep this spoiler free, so I’m going to be a bit limited in a lot of things I can discuss, but this is a film that will stick with you for a long time. To be entirely honest, when the credits started to roll my first reaction was, “That’s it?!” It felt like there was so much left unsaid and unresolved. I felt...jipped.
I was more upset because the entire movie was gripping. There was never a moment where I wasn’t glued to the action, which gets very intense at times, and riveted to all that was unfolding. I couldn’t turn away and was sucked in to both the characters (thanks to some very stellar performances) and mystery. The lack of resolution felt like a let down and that I’d wasted my time.
A couple hours later, while sitting on the couch trying to get the toddler to bed, I found myself thinking back to the film. There were scenes I couldn’t get out of my head, because of how powerfully they resonated. The more I thought about it, the more things seemed to click into place. Sequences I thought I understood while watching, took on new meaning.
This feeling lasted with me throughout the weekend and I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about Hold the Dark. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and slowly, my entire perception of the film changed.
To say Hold the Dark is a slow burn kind of movie is an understatement. The film offers plenty of visual goodies and active tension to keep you invested until the credits roll, but the mystery at its core will leave you thinking about it long after. It’s insidious in the way it invaded my thoughts so thoroughly, even when I felt I’d made up my mind about the film. It wasn’t much long after that, I felt the powerful need to see the movie again.
I don’t think I’ve made such a drastic turn in opinions on a movie before and because of how it played out, I’m quick to recommend this film. Hold the Dark sticks with you in unique ways and tells an intriguing story you won’t soon forget. It’s cinematography and performances are top notch, leaving me with no complaints.
That’s not to say there aren’t some issues with the film. Namely, Hold the Dark’s biggest problem is in how little it explains some of the lore. It feels contradictory to say, but a lot of what makes the film work is in how little the film explains things. It’s what forces you to keep thinking about it. The problem with the lore, however, is the film utilizes aspects of Indigenous culture, especially as related to wolves and demons. While I thought it was a neat touch and well integrated, if you don’t know anything about the lore in that culture, you’re pretty much out of luck. Things are said/insinuated without any explanation. While you can grasp at some of the meanings, they’re not entirely clear.
In this regard, it’s frustrating. I spent more time thinking about the meaning of those things rather than the bigger mystery. It’s a cool aspect within the film, but the lack of explanation in THIS specific instance is more distracting than anything else. There are also a couple narrative threads that, even after a second viewing and a lot of thinking, don’t feel satisfactory. Almost as if they were half-thought out and the execution leaves something to be desired.
Like I said, there’s a lot to unpack in this movie. Despite seeing it a couple times now, I still find myself thinking back to the meaning of certain things and the ultimate message it leaves behind. I know it seems like I’m flip-flopping, and have more negatives than positives to say, but that’s kind of the beauty in Hold the Dark. I think everyone is going to walk away with something different from this movie.