Jeremy Saulnier has now made three movies about the darkness at the fringes of civilization. In Blue Ruin it was a revenge tale where a man rejected societal expectations to get his pound of flesh. In Green Room, we follow the journey of a punk rock band trapped by neo-Nazis in a woods far from help. In Hold the Dark, he explores the darkness of remote Alaska to make one of the bleakest movies in recent memory.
Core (Jeffrey Wright) receives a letter from a mother whose son was taken by wolves in a village in Alaska. Core is a wolf expert who wrote a book decades ago about tracking a wolf that kid a child. Haunted by decades of small mistakes in his professional and personal life, Core is a broken man surviving day to day as he arrives at the village. Jeffrey Wright is fantastic in this role. A performance so subtle that I don’t think he had more than 20 lines yet I knew him as a character after 5 minutes. As he begins to investigate and track the pack of wolves believed to have taken the boy, he discovers that the real beasts are the humans of this story who have rejected civilization and don’t feel bound by its constructs.
As Core learns more about the village the darkness of the location and character seem to almost overwhelm him. Once the boy’s father (Alexander Skarsgard) returns and learns of the fate of his only child the tiny thread that held any sense of humanity is snapped and everyone turns to their most primitive instincts. James Badge Dale plays a local sheriff trying to hold everything together to create some sense of humanity and he really shines in this performance.
As unforgiving as it is violent, Saulnier and his screenwriter Macon Blair drop you into a pitch black world where all lights, hopes, and good is extinguished. A slow burn that doesn’t even revel in its violence. Many movies like this build towards a shootout to excite the audience but there is nothing like that here. The shootouts aren’t “fun” in the way other movies portray them. It is harrowing and portrayed really well by Saulnier so as to not glamorize anything that is happening. It is a devastating scene that you want to end several times.
Hold the Dark is a creeping mood that doesn’t leave until the credits role. There are no answers in the darkness of remote Alaska so the film gives us none. The movie transports us to a place with people who are less civilized than the wolves who got the ball rolling on this entire plot. Not exactly a Netflix and chill movie but definitely one to watch this month when it comes out.