Netflix's Hold the Dark Review

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Even Netflix can't ruin a Jeremy Saulnier film

by Casimir Harlow Sep 28, 2018 at 8:05 PM

  • Filmmakers Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair reunite after Blue Ruin and Green Room for this atmospheric little thriller starring Jeffrey Wright.

    Whilst patently overlong, clocking in over the two hour mark, with a first hour swamped by impenetrable darkness (even with Dolby Vision) before the true horror of the story are revealed and revelled in, Hold the Dark remains an impressively staged little piece of quintessential Jeremy Saulnier work.

    Reminiscent of not only Saulnier's early excellent work on Blue Ruin and Green Room, but also of the similarly-set and similarly-staged (in terms of terrifically tense ambushes) Wind River, one of last year's absolute gems, Hold the Dark in unpredictable, gruesome and chilling in equal measure.

    An impressively staged little piece of quintessential Jeremy Saulnier work.

    The story follows Jeffrey Wright's writer and wolf expert Russell, who is called to a remote Alaskan village to help a mother who thinks that her young boy was taken by wolves. The woman's plea - seemingly lost and alone with her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) - on a tour in the Middle East - sets Russell off to track and kill the wolf for her, but what he discovers is far worse than what he expects. To make matter's worse, Vernon returns guns blazing, seeing the local cops - headed up by James Badge Dale - out of their depth, and scrambling to survive as the soldier goes looking for blood following the fate of his boy.

    Hold the Dark
    The biggest problem, at least initially, is the sheer lack of light, with Hold the Dark doing quite literally what it says in its title, making for a frustrating watch unless you've got a Dolby Vision screen and a dedicated dark room. That said, there is an undeniably moody intensity to the film, which carries you through the interstitial barely-lit indoor scenes, and through to the more suspenseful moments confronting the wolves - or other predators - often with the striking snowy backdrop offering a wonderful canvas for the more impressive scenes. The final act aerial scenes are really quite breathtaking too.

    Worth checking out on a night in.

    Wright is great in the lead role, although - despite the runtime - you never really get to know his character to any kind of significant degree, with Skarsgard's military set-up affording his character a little more background, whilst James Badge Dale continues a run of solid little roles (including here on Netflix). Frequent Saulnier collaborator, Macon Blair, pops up for a cameo, but he's got his hands full with the writing for this piece, and it is a solid script, with some memorable interactions between the characters who are all lost, in one way or another.

    Trading in that Wind River vibe is only a massive plus point, and whilst Hold the Dark doesn't deliver the same great - and efficient - story, and particularly goes off-kilter in the final act, it still peddles in intoxicatingly dark and mysterious themes that are almost horror-infused, something which any fans of Saulnier will not find unfamiliar. It's a solid effort, particularly for Netflix, and worth checking out on a night in.

    The Rundown

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