With his latest feature film, director Jeremy Saulnier has given us Hold the Dark. Similar in tone to Wind River, Hold the Dark is a stark, unrelenting glimpse at the reality of human behavior as it devolves into malevolent behavior for no apparent reason. A scene early in the film shows a pack of wolves devouring one of their own pups and it’s absolutely brutal to watch. The scene is placed where it is as preview of what’s to come; what kind of end that awaits anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves entangled in this horror show. The wolves eating their young is a rare thing the main character states, he calls it the natural order of things. Perhaps this could help put into perspective why the people of this rural, fictional Alaskan town are lashing out the way they are; specifically a mother seeking closure for the death of her child whom she says is the third child to be taken by wolves. Things are not as they appear I assure you.
After first viewing one might see this film as a mindless violence fest just reaching for shock value. While not completely incorrect, Hold the Dark is a metaphor filled murder spree that’s trying to say a lot more than simply bodies hitting the ground, look how cool it looks. The savagery feels unceasing because the message of the film lies within the excessive violence that is plaguing the characters of this overtly sinister, depressing view of the human race as a whole. As with the early scene of wolves consuming their own offspring, the human interaction here, as a sample size of the human race, is equally as unforgiving as those wolves. The difference with the wolves is their actions are based on an absolute necessity to survive by any means. As we learn what really happened to the missing little boy we start to question the validity of our own species. It makes you ask if we really deserve to continue as a species. After watching this film you may struggle to answer that question so quickly or assuredly.
If you’ve seen his previous films, Blue Ruin and Green Room then you have a pretty good idea what kind of film Hold the Dark will be, tonally speaking and you’d be right. There is no light here, as the frozen tundra that carries this story only sees approximately five hours of sunlight a day, the story itself is one of pure terroristic agony that thrives in the darkness, literally and metaphorically. Hopeless is an inescapable word that encapsulates what this story unfurls and what the characters encounter at seemingly every turn.
This story is so grim, filled with equally unappeasable town folk that the protagonist, a retired naturalist and wolf expert turned writer, is such a glaring disparity to the rest of them that his very presence feels like the true oddity here. In a story of murder, betrayal, and overwhelming sadness, his kind nature is the thing that stands out the most. The thing that feels the least natural in this horrifying setting is a kind man with a kind soul. That is depressing all its own.
One of the biggest questions left open ended by credits rolling is what the dynamic of a relationship is between a childless mother and her recently returned from war, soldier husband. Upon second and third viewing you begin to notice that everything about their relationship is answered, just not so clearly that one might catch it after one viewing. If you listen to her response about meeting her husband a whole new twisted angle to an already perverted storyline is inserted creating even more repugnance. It makes her actions all the more bizarre, like the world’s most warped circus act, puss filled revulsion at center stage.
So beyond any chance of saviors emerging, so devoid of hope that an argument could be made that this film is equally a horror film as much as it is a drama. The violence is plentiful and graphic, the storyline is despairing, and the characters are expendable. Whether in a distant land with heat and sand or a frozen wasteland, the human behavior toward one another is vitriol and confusing mostly because of the randomness; it takes an arbitrary path where violence overtakes us as people. The abhorrent behavior becomes so common here that the term inhumane, implying treating one another this way is unnatural, simply isn’t so. Abhorrence is the way things are in this story, sorry.
If you can stomach the graphic violence that are in his previous films, and you found yourself enamored by the tribulation experienced by his characters in those same stories, Hold the Dark is a film for you. He has never been more relentless than he is here and we as the audience must accept that a neat bow at the end won’t be found anywhere near this visually jarring slaughter drama. This is a film that is dramatically engaging in the character interactions both in speaking and bodily harm. But as I’ve clarified multiple times, this is not for those seeking a safe space to unwind. If the excessive violence doesn’t churn you a bit, the hopeless outlook certainly will. Consider yourself warned.
Rated TV-MA (R) For: strong, bloody, graphic violence, strong language throughout, drug use, graphic nudity and brief sexual content
Runtime: 125 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Mystery, (Horror)
Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale, Macon Blair
Directed By: Jeremy Saulnier
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4.5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes. It’s a Netflix original so it should be streaming for a long time.
Check out the trailer below:
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