'Hold the Dark' review: Don't mess with the wolves

Hold the Dark

Or just avoid places that are this cold in general, really.

With winter coming in the next couple of months, sometimes you need a movie like Hold the Dark to come along and remind you just how miserable the cold/snow can be. Please just let it stay fall for forever. Please.

Hold the Dark is a new Netflix original film from Blue Ruin and Green Room (two very good movies) director Jeremy Saulnier.

Based on the novel of the same name, Hold the Dark is set in 2004 northern Alaska, right in the middle of winter. That means that, on average, you’ll maybe see five hours of sunlight each day, and you can pretty much be rest assured that you’ll always, always be cold.

This is a landscape that Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is used to.

Hold the Dark
credit: YouTube

At least, he was at one point. He’s now retired, living a peaceful life in a warmer climate and trying to keep out of trouble. There was a time, however, when he thrived in this environment, as he was a wolf expert who wrote books about his journeys in tracking down deadly wolf-packs.

After receiving a letter from a woman named Medora Slone (Riley Keough), who lives in a small village called Keelut, it looks like Russell might be getting dragged into this once again.

The letter tells Russel that Medora’s six-year-old son, Bailey, was taken by wolves one afternoon when he was outside playing. He’s now the third child in the village that this has happened to, and the local police department, led by Sgt. Donald Marium (James Badge Dale), hasn’t made any progress in recovering the bodies or making sure the wolves won’t hurt anyone else.

Hold the Dark
credit: YouTube

Medora is basically asking Russell to come to Keelut, hunt down the pack and kill their leader. And, much to his own surprise, Russell decides to accept the offer.

Upon arriving, Russell quickly learns that he’s made a huge mistake. This isn’t really about wolves, here. There’s something else — something much more sinister — that’s going on under the surface.

Part of the mystery has to do with Medora’s husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard), who has been off serving in Iraq the past couple of years. After being discharged due to injury, he’s now home, but it doesn’t take an expert to tell that there’s something definitely off about him.

As Russell continues to investigate, the blood-trail goes thicker and thicker, now putting him at risk as well.

Hold the Dark
credit: YouTube

It’s a pretty vague plot synopsis only because Hold the Dark wants to keep things vague and ambiguous so that you don’t see all the various twists and turns that it hits you with.

That’s the best part of Hold the Dark. The movie starts out in one direction, to the point where you think you know where it’s going, only to do a complete 180 and bring it in an entirely different direction. This happens a couple of times, as Saulnier is clearly having a blast playing with audience expectations, giving them this wild ride in which there is no telling what will happen next.

Some of those pieces might work better than others, but it still delivers a well-told thriller overall, as I really bought into the mystery and the atmosphere surrounding Hold the Dark.

That’s partially due to the cinematography, which is gorgeous and makes me want to travel to Alaska right this very second (even if I would do so in the comfort of some sort of heated vehicle because there’s no way I’m going out there in the snow). It’s great that Netflix is home to thousands of movies like this, as they likely wouldn’t get made without the streaming service, but I still get a little bummed out when I see something like Hold the Dark here because I can only imagine how good it would look on a big screen.

Hold the Dark
credit: YouTube

Performance-wise, most of the cast does a really good job in Hold the Dark as well.

Jeffrey Wright is always great in everything he’s in (especially Westworld), meaning he’s once again great here. I maybe wish there was a little bit more to his character, as he’s really just playing the every man who’s providing exposition for the audience (to be fair, they try to throw in a subplot about his daughter, but it feels pretty last minute), but Wright still nails it regardless.

James Badge Dale was a big standout too, as he’s an actor I’m not all that familiar with but really started to win me over as the movie went on and on.

Then we have Alexander Skarsgard, who I’ve been hard on before, mostly because he only seems to take roles where he doesn’t actually have any dialogue. Once again, he speaks very, very little in Hold the Dark, but I think it actually works a lot better here than something like Mute, as he provides an intimidating presence that can be felt without dialogue.

Hold the Dark
credit: YouTube

Riley Keough was the one who didn’t really work for me. I’m not sure if its the casting or just the way her character was written, but it felt like she was slightly trying to be hard to be dark and ominous.

I’m also not too big of a fan of the ending. Granted, I’ve seen other mystery/thriller movies botch their climax a whole lot worse than Hold the Dark does, but I still left this one wanting more. More answers, more resolution, more something.

Which may have been Saulnier’s point, at least partially, as he’s really working to create an ambiguous film full of metaphors and whatnot. At some point, though, there needs to be some sort of explanation for the choices that characters make. Hold the Dark doesn’t do that. Instead of answering anything, they just point towards the metaphor their trying to drill in your head and say ‘See!? Do you get it?!,’ which can be somewhat frustrating at times.

Hold the Dark
credit: YouTube

That’s not a dealbreaker though, as there’s still a lot to like in Hold the Dark. I was caught off-guard several times during this movie, which was something I very much enjoyed. I still think Green Room is Jeremy Saulnier’s best film, but Hold the Dark is definitely right on par with Blue Ruin, and that’s saying something.

Watch the trailer for Hold the Dark here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the movie!

'Hold the Dark' review: Don't mess with the wolves
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.

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