REVIEW: Hold the Dark (2018)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a short review of Hold the Dark — Directed by Jeremy Saulnier.

In the last few years, director Jeremy Saulnier has started to become a household name with cinephiles. His last two films Blue Ruin and, especially, Green Room were both met with critical acclaim and a lot of support from the film community. So when it was announced that his next film — Netflix’s Hold the Dark — would be his most ambitious and most expensive project yet, I and many other cinephiles were, naturally, excited.

Hold the Dark is based on a 2014 William Giraldi novel of the same name, and the film was written by Saulnier’s long-time collaborator Macon Blair (who has also starred in all of his films). The film follows Russell Core (played by Jeffrey Wright), a wolf expert and author, who, early on in the film, agrees to travel to Keelut, Alaska to help Medora Sloane (played by Riley Keough), whose son, she claims, was taken by wild wolves.

Her husband, Vernon (played by Alexander Skarsgård), has been overseas in Iraq serving in the military. When he is wounded in combat and forced to return to Keelut, his wife is missing, and new details have emerged about his son’s disappearance. Russell soon learns that what has happened in Keelut is unlike anything he has encountered before.

There is a lot to admire about Hold the Dark. It features chilling cinematography and an appropriate atmosphere for a film like this one. Furthermore, Saulnier’s film touches upon some bleak and disturbing themes sometimes to good effect. With all of that having been said, I just don’t think this movie works. Hold the Dark is a poorly paced and underdeveloped wilderness thriller that loses the plot halfway through the film and ends up as a never-ending dull genre exercise for a talented filmmaker.

The moment that I knew the film had lost me came approximately 80 or 85 minutes into the film. I had up until then been fairly interested in the narrative in spite of what I thought were underexplored and underexplained characters and a general pacing problem. But then there was a moment that broke me and showed me just how little I cared about the mostly thinly-designed supporting characters.

In the scene that precedes an elaborate and likely very memorable action shootout sequence, James Badge Dale’s character walks up to a house to confront a character named Cheeon (played by Julian Black Antelope). This confrontation scene between two characters that were at odds felt like it took twenty minutes to get through when, in reality, it probably only took five minutes, tops.

Then when Dale’s character afterward is asked what Cheeon said, he simply sums it up to two words: “Fuck you,” thus leaving me confused as to why Saulnier would spend so much time on it — I certainly did not become significantly more invested in Dale’s character as a result of this conversation.

This scene was so frustrating to me, and it pretty much ruined my interest in the subsequent shootout, which, I thought, was overlong as well. You would think this huge, elaborate shootout sequence would feel extremely important to the plot — but I don’t think it was. And it didn’t properly lead up to anything. I think there were even 35 or 40 minutes left of the film when it was over.

I had high hopes for Hold the Dark, it was one of the films that I was most excited for this year. But it ended up as a major disappointment, to me, and there were chunks of the film that I thought were tough to get through. In spite of the film’s grizzly and chilling look, the sometimes fascinating film is, ultimately, borderline incoherent.

6 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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