Hold the Dark written by Macon Blair and William Giraldi and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Addictive Pictures, Film Science, VisionChaos Productions, Netflix, TV-MA, 125 min)
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough, Alexander Skarsgård, Julian Black Antelope, and James Badge Dale.
Raging Against the Dying of the Light
I can think of nothing less classically romantic or poetic than the struggle at the end of a life. Because we fail to grasp the true depths of death, our language and expectations around it are so foreign. We block it off. We refuse to give it the detailed consideration that we might give our wedding day. We live in a constant fight against its ends, as Dylan Thomas would suggest, we rage against the dying of the light.
I wonder, then, if suspense and horror films hold sway in our lives because these films expose those carnal elements of what will come for all of us, a brief entry into the devastating places we unfortunately will all go?
A Return to the Wild
In Jeremy Saulnier’s latest suspense film, Hold the Dark, the return to the wild when the end of life is near feels like its clear thesis.
Although a little uneven in its set up and delivery, the basic premise of Hold the Dark focuses on a grieving mother, Medora Slone (Riley Keough), who writes author Russel Core (Jeffrey Wright) hoping for assistance in finding her son. She believes her son has been taken by wolves, a similar fate to other children in this remote Alaskan wilderness.
Core, a nature writer specializing in wolf pack activity, arrives ready to assist in the search. What follows is best not spoiled, but the narrative quickly takes a violent turn, true to Saulnier’s earlier work.
And the life of man: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short
While one could level valid criticism on the pacing of the film, Hold the Dark offers lasting resonance around the ideas of nature’s brutishness. Here, the backdrop of the Alaskan frontier becomes a key player in what Saulnier is trying to do. Even before the action happens, the cold, stark reality around living at the edge of society takes hold. When nature is at the back door, it doesn’t take much for the uncivilized elements of who we are to take hold.
Saulnier’s early work is told more tightly, but that doesn’t mean Hold the Dark ought to be avoided; it packs a quite a punch. And isn’t that what we want from the horror genre, a quick window into the themes for which our language lacks and we often try to avoid?
Verdict: 4 out of 5