Author and animal expert, Dr. Russell Gore, receives a letter asking for his help. A mother is desperate to find her missing son and two other children that were taken by wolves. Hoping to help in whatever way he can, Dr. Gore travels to the rural Alaskan town. When he arrives he discovers that there is much more going on in this small town than he anticipated. Hold the Dark, a mystery directed by Jeremy Saulnier is one of the latest original films to arrive on Netflix. What starts as an interesting story about the missing children turns into an anticlimactic finale that never comes together.
Medora Slone (Riley Keough) is surprised when Dr. Gore (Jeffery Wright) arrives on her doorstep. She never actually thought he would come but didn’t know who else could help her. From the beginning Dr. Gore can sense that there is something strange going on in this town. The looming darkness is a constant presence in this film. Not only is the film physically quite dark but there is a dark tone as well. The darkness is like a cloud hovering over each character. Each one that is introduced has an exhausted, stoic and almost haunted expression. This is a smart decision to have each of the characters act like this. It works in the sense that they are guiding not only Dr. Gore but the audience as well. This is a great example of showing and not just telling. Before a word is spoken between Dr. Gore and Medora you can sense that there is something more going on here.
From the beginning, the screenplay written by Macon Blair is highly intriguing. I was instantly pulled into the mystery of the stolen children. When Medora was introduced she was rather unusual but I was also into what she was doing. I started to lose that interest once her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard), became the film’s main focus. Vernon, a solider serving overseas is injured and sent home where he learns about his son’s disappearance. After his return home he sets out on a series of brutal murders and it’s unclear why. I continued to lose my interest when these murders led to an extended shoot out scene with the police. It’s not that there was anything of poor quality within the screenplay but as a whole it didn’t make sense. There were bits within the larger story that had they been the main focus it could have been a much stronger film. Instead there was too many separate pieces within the story that had difficulty connecting to the rest of the film.
The performances in Hold the Dark also failed to deliver. Jeffery Wright is a largely underrated actor and sadly there wasn’t much for him to do as Dr. Gore. His performance works as a sort of window for the audience; your reactions to what is happening are also his reactions. However a majority of the time he is wearing the same shocked expression and simply shivering in the cold. This is incredibly disappointing since he was a large reason why I was interested in this film in the first place. The other reason I was looking forward to this film was Alexander Skarsgard. His performance wasn’t bad it was just fine. This type of performance almost feels more disappointing than a bad one. It’s unfortunate to see an actor unable to deliver a notable performance that you know they are capable of delivering. Riley Keough’s performance was one that I wished I could have seen more of. Her character as Vernon’s peculiar wife was one of the more interesting roles but sadly she wasn’t given much screen time. I didn’t understand her motivations at all. Before his return from the war she spoke of him almost as if she feared him and his possible return so much so that she never called him about their son. Once they are reunited it’s like all of that was forgotten by both of them. Had there been more development on her character it could have helped the film make better sense.
Finally one of my biggest issues with Hold the Dark is what is happening around the film’s story is far more thought provoking than what is happening within the film. There’s a dark presence within the Slone family that expands through the entire town. Its occupants refuse to trust the police, are cut off from the rest of the world, practicing some form of witchcraft, unbearably cold, and oddly quiet. All of these could have been compelling avenues to explore but they were not examined any further. In short conversations there are tiny bits of information that are revealed but they’re just unsatisfying which is a good way to describe the entire film. As a whole Hold the Dark simply fails to deliver.
2 1/2 out of 5 stars
Director:Jeremy Saulnier Writers: Macon Blair (screenplay by), William Giraldi (based on the book by) Starring: Jeffery Wright, Alexander Skarsgard, Riley Keough Release Date: September 28th Rated: R Runtime: 2 hours and 5 minutes