Movie Review: HOLD THE DARK - Wolves Among Humans

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Movie Review: HOLD THE DARK - Photo credit:, Edition by  Amber255 via

Just yesterday I watched horror drama HOLD THE DARK. I just follow the IMDb list of 50 best movies of 2018, and this one came after APOSTLE, so here is my review. Very strange, very unintelligible, and very worthy movie in the literal and figurative sense of the word. It's the chilling tape showing that people are only snowflakes in the wind of spirits and shadows of shadows, like dolls, toys of something bigger and far more terrible than they are.

The Netflix film HOLD THE DARK is not at all what it seems! I read a few reviews on it and realized that many saw mystic here, but I saw a harsh life.

Jeremy Saulnier can certainly be considered one of the most prominent, talented, and non-trivial directors of the thriller genre, and he shows it very clear with almost every piece of his work. Perhaps his filmography is not rich, but in each of his tape, Saulnier distances himself as much as possible from the usual genre fetters and allows the viewer to engage in an intellectual struggle with the author to find out the main meaning of his tape. This film is not an exception to the rule.

It’s not the kind of film you watch waiting for “the answer.” Saulnier isn’t going to solve the equation for you in Hold The Dark. But he is going to kick your ass.


The strength of each work of Jeremy Saulnier is that unlike most other directors of the genre of thriller, detective and horror films, who willingly try not only to “chew” the food for thought of the viewer, but also make it swallow.

Jeremy Saulnier willingly scatters various hints throughout his tape, and the viewer, analyzing them himself, has to put the mosaic picture together. In HOLD THE DARK, the director managed to bring this formula to absolute magnificence.

The film is based on the novel by William Giraldo. By the way, this is the first film directed by Saulnier, for which he did not prepare the script. The shooting took place near the cowboy city of Calgary in the Canadian province of Alberta, in the Kananaskis Natural Park, which is abundant in mountain ranges and several rivers.

HOLD THE DARK, Official Trailer, Netflix film - Video credit:

The Short Story Of The Movie

A small northern town in Canada, apparently Indian reservation where living conditions above the harsh. And it's not only cold or wolves; just civilization does not reach here, and we hardly can name people as civilized who go out into the world from there.

The plot of the picture develops around documentary writer and wolf specialist Russell Kore (Jeffrey Wright), who receives a strange letter. In the very heart of Alaska, in a god-forgotten little town, a certain Medora Slone (Riley Keough) lost her boy, who was taken by the wolves. Staying alone, the mother asks Russell to find and kill the wolf. 

While agreeing, Russell does not even suspect what a dangerous deal he is getting involved in, and what consequences his interference in the life of a city that has fallen away from civilization will have.

In the town, children disappear, but wolves are clearly not kidnapping them. A mad father who has just returned from a meat grinder in Iraq has his own motives to kill everyone who, in his opinion, is involved in the disappearance of his child - but we can only guess about them.

Evil is incomprehensible, and it is contagious, like a disease. The haze of the dark side of the human soul is like a plague, with which it is possible to fight, only knowing what distinguishes wolves from people, namely, the beast will kill its own by the will of instinct, and man always has a choice.


50 best movies of 2018: HOLD THE DARK - Photo credit:

The Content Of The Movie

It is difficult to speak about this briefly and clearly, but allegory has been a success. Rocks, snow, Indians, wolves, psychopaths, cold, and darkness. The boundless and calm evil, poured over all this in the sky, with which something is wrong, according to the apt remark of one of the characters.

Wolves that show humanity by letting a man escape, and people who show a wolf nature, without forgiving the representatives of their own species, are a symbolic scene on the basis the film HOLD THE DARK was built.

HOLD THE DARK is a hard and uncompromising view on the problem of life, death, and your own identity. You can perceive the film in different ways, but the attentive viewer will see a lot of encrypted and hidden details that, if desired, fit into a single file. I advise you to follow the plot very carefully, at least in the first hour of viewing. Since under every phrase that is accidentally said, the most insignificant detail in the frame — be it a photo in a frame, an animal mask, the behavior of wolves, or a strange relationship — hide the answer to the riddle. And such secrets as the film develops we see more and more.

Humans and Wolves are one in a place dominated by nature itself. The benefits of civilization do not reach here, the night is longer than a day, and local people are not familiar with the laws of hospitality. A small, isolated mountain village in the realm of Darkness itself, which is not only around, but also in the souls of the local inhabitants.


James Badge Dale and Jonathan Whitesell in HOLD THE DARK - Photo credit:

No wonder even wolves bypass this place, even though they live with people almost next door. And the parallels between the actions of humans and animals slip along the plot quite often - comparison of customs and habits, human wolves and people with wolf souls.

The film by Jeremy Saulnier allows us to look into the deepest impartial aspects of human behavior, to get to know the abyss of insanity that he is capable of. In this sense, the film hides a lot of potentials and makes you think.

Outside Canada, in Africa or in Asia, there are many such villages, forgotten by the authorities and civilized life. Moralists of big glam cities do not understand how people feel sent to war or abandoned without means of subsistence. Such people get a living wage, and their place is near the mines and in the logging. That's basically what the film HOLD THE DARK makes you think: about provocation of a person to society, and about the society itself - a wolves gang is also a kind of society of individuals.

What does society expect from people wounded in war, retirees, and other hard workers? Taxes and obedience, sewer fees. But is it entitled to wait for this? If you have worked all your life in a small town and now you only dream about a cup of soup, do you have the right to a decent life? It depends on what to call a decent life. These are the thoughts that come after watching this deep, powerful film.


Horror drama HOLD THE DARK - Photo credit:

If a person is thrown into the world of wolves, then one should not be surprised - that he has become a wolf.

Do not look for any detective in this film as this is a horror drama about the harsh living conditions.

The biggest mistake a person can make, who thinks to watch or not watch this film, is to make this decision just like a hunter - based on whether he wants to deal with wolves or not. The film is about bestial nature, instincts, attitude, but not about how to fight with a flock of wolves.

One of the plotlines tells of the fatal mistakes of local law enforcement agencies. On the shoulders of local police lies part of the blame of what happened. The police shootout episode was the strongest and most intense. Jeremy Saulnier recreates a full-fledged battlefield; there is no place for heartiness and pathos.

The viewer observes the story of the film via the eyes of an African-American writer. He will feel the cold of human evil, in the background of which wolves will seem to be harmless sheep. At first glance it may seem as if we are offered to plunge into the winter expanses of Alaska, to see the life of the indigenous population, to experience the wildness of animals. Just evil is on the other side.


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One of the characters says that soon there will be nothing left of their village. Another that the laws do not reach here. Truly so. People are captured by darkness. Darkness, which is very close, which comes from the forest, from Nature, from the Primordial, the Unknown. The laws of humans are replaced by laws of the wolf (not only in the sense that is usually embedded in this expression but in a much broader and deeper one).

 The Personages Of The Movie 

The protagonist, a writer and wolf expert Russell Core (who is played by a wonderful but not popular actor Jeffrey Wright), is not less mysterious than the movie itself. Low-speaking, gloomy, forever on his mind, he knows the nature of his subordinates better than himself and the people around him. For him, a trip to the other end of America in God’s forgotten town in Alaska turns into the knowledge of the depths of human evil. Residents of a small settlement, where, it seems, no one has ever seen the sun, are soaked with darkness to the very bones. It reinforces them, pushes them to hate, and forces them to kill.

Most of the characters seem very gloomy and mysterious as if something is hidden inside them that could break out at any time. Surely in each of us, there is that thin string, at the breaking of which a person with obvious cruelty does inexplicable things.


Netflix film HOLD THE DARK review

The scriptwriter paints a portrait of social evil on the example of antagonists. Who is a threat to the liberal world by the opinion of the screenwriter? It's a married couple of white people experiencing a family tragedy. The husband - a soldier who took part in the hostilities in Iraq. Blond, low-spoken warrior, which is not alien to charity (he prevents the violence of a local girl). However, when misfortune happened, evil awakens in him. Former combatants carry a potential threat to American society. The war taught them to kill, and the army to love their country. It is difficult for veterans to find themselves in civilian life. They can break at any time and arrange a slaughter.

The wife is waiting for her husband from the war and is raising the child alone. It's very hard. In addition, she lives in the American outback, adjacent to the Indians. Such cohabitation is hard for her, a white American. These motifs, plus the director's hidden motives, gradually roll into a large snowball and lead to tragedy.

Darkness captured Vernon and Medora. Geoffrey is also close to this. That is why throughout the entire film he looks so lost. He himself does not understand why he came. He is not a hunter. He is a writer who killed only one wolf, and it was very hard. Russell is confused. He does not understand the obvious hints of Medora about what kind of wolf really needs to be killed. He takes a gun and goes to the forest.


HOLD THE DARK review - Photo credit:

Jeremy Saulnier took a very risky step - he left only hints. These hints seem to be irrelevant details, unjustified digressions, redundant phrases, random frames, meaningless dialogues, and actions. But if you figure out what's what, you get a logical sequence. Everything that happens on the screen makes sense. One of the keys (just one of many) to the cipher is the word ferocity, which Jeffrey uses to describe some of the behavioral characteristics of wolves. Ferocity is the essence of obsession.

If you look, it will become clear not only why Vernon and Medora did and do so. It will become clear who they really are, and what they have in mind. Their motives are not as obvious as they seem. Let me give you a hint too: pay attention to the only question Vernon asked Russell in the morgue. This is another key. He opens one of the final scenes.

Yes, Saulnier took a risky step. Most viewers did not understand (or did not take the efforts to understand) what is being offered almost on a plate. The result was a low rating. Especially on IMDb. Alas.

The Technical Side Of The Movie 

The picture and soundtrack are great. The atmosphere is transferred to the highest scores. I remember the scene of a shootout with a large-caliber machine gun. The point is not even in the fact that it is perfectly delivered and filmed. The fact is that, despite the obvious action, it does not violate the rhythm of the story. The film has an organic dynamic. Slowing and accelerating actions alternate as it should.


 Netflix film by the director jeremy Saulnier HOLD THE DARK - Photo credit:

The Blair Brothers' beautiful soundtrack fits the atmosphere of the film very harmoniously and perfectly conveys the gloomy shade of the picture. Especially it feels in the last scenes when there is trying to enhance the effect of perception at the cost of the music.

Alaska is presented in contrast: the fascinating grandeur of natural landscapes against the wretchedness of human life. In the Frontier, in these remote and unfriendly places, civilization loses its strength. A powerful wave of skyscrapers and highways is not found there, only a weak surface of crooked slums and snowy roads remains. But Nature is gaining strength. Civilization loses on all fronts. That is the atmosphere of the HOLD THE DARK.

Separately worth mentioning the excellent camera work. Each frame was literally pleasing to the eye and fascinated: whether it be common views of snowy Alaska or the gloomy darkness of the night forest. The main merit is that they very well fit the overall mood of the picture, conveyed the drama and tension of the moment.

The story here really depends on the visual effect. 

Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgard & Jeremy Saulnier Chat Netflix's HOLD THE DARK - Video credit:

The Collective Work of The Actors

If we talk about the actors, in this case, you hardly notice them, because while watching it seems that the real residents of distant Alaska are on the screen. Wonderful types, bright emotions, piercing glances and a persistent spirit of human existence - all this is absolute merit of an experienced casting director and, of course, the director. And thanks to the professional entourage, the viewer is literally transferred to the other end of the world and becomes a part of the events taking place.

I was pleased with the play of Jeffrey Wright, who adheres to the position perform in films rarely, but precisely, and this film was no exception. The actor put the most on the screen in the context of the story itself.

Despite the absolute emotional minimalism of their characters, the strongest game was demonstrated by Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgard. Especially Skarsgard, who had long ago learned by the mere expression of his eyes and body language to draw out a role better than any dialogues.

It is impossible not to mention the great game of James Badge Dale, who again was marked by a wonderful game and full immersion in the image. It’s a pity that the actor’s career didn't raise, and he is not so often seen in large projects.


The horror drama HOLD THE

On The Final Note

Viewers expecting a pop film will disappoint. However, the rest will receive a first-class adventure drama and the most original horror film. The film allows you to turn on the inner Sherlock Holmes, listen to every phrase and rustle, look intently at each frame and willingly review the film with thoughts that some details you missed earlier, and a similar quest when watching the tape is absolutely priceless for any fan of intellectual cinema.

Especially in the context of how strong and the dual finale of this tape is, and how beautifully the film itself is designed.

 It is quite obvious that this is the most ambitious and authorial film in the work of the director, in which Jeremy Saulnier superbly manifested himself as a true artist. Willingly drawing on the screen an extremely non-trivial image of three genres at once (adventure, drama, and horror film), as well as skillfully building around this extremely unusual atmosphere of anxiety, tension, and accruing suspense. As if allowing you to feel all the discomfort of the inhabitants and the darkness that literally and figuratively enter them. Cold. Emptying. Bottomless black.


HOLD THE DARK event - Photo credit:

Summary, it's a dark and tough mystical story that pretends to be a crime drama. But when viewing, you will need to be attentive, and then to work with brains. The reward for intellectual work will be not only an understanding of the meaning but also a few unexpected conclusions that will turn everything upside down. 

Most importantly, this story does not disappear from the head 15 minutes after viewing. It makes you strain your brains. And this is in itself an achievement.

An incredibly subtle, dark, brooding, violent film that had me thinking about it for hours and days afterwards.


My rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 71/100
Metacritic: 6.3/100
Critics average: 3.1/10
IMDb: 5.6/10




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