With only four films under his belt, director Jeremy Saulnier has made some pretty big dents in the world of cinema, thanks to films like Blue Ruin and Green Room. Now, with his first Netflix film, Hold The Dark, he looks to continue that streak with another tale revolving around humanity and their violent tendencies. While this may not be as impressive as either of those films, it's still a movie that displays great command of Saulnier's voice and technique as a filmmaker, at the command of a story that is both thrilling and somber.
After her son's apparent abduction by wolves, Medora Stone (Riley Keough) contacts an expert in the creature's behavior (Jeffrey Wright) in hopes of retrieving him before her husband (Alexander Skarsgard) returns from active duty. What begins as a simple investigation as to where the missing child may be, turns into a deeper mystery concerning the entire Alaskan village the Stone family resides in. Man and wolf are creatures of instinct and predatory nature, but only one is responsible for what happens in this remote corner of the world.
Jeremy Saulnier is an absolute master of portraying the vicious and dour nature of humanity, and Hold The Dark is his latest gem, as he conveys the bleak Alaskan frontier with both an eye for its beauty and its danger. While the color palette is appropriately drab and stark, this film crackles with an anxious energy, as Jeffrey Wright's Russell Core wades through the film's central mystery as a perfect audience surrogate -- a clueless outsider who learns as much as we do as the film goes on. This helps infuse the film with a nervous streak, putting the audience on the edge of their seat just when they think it's safe to sink back into the cushions.
Wright's stellar, underplayed performance is flanked by some brilliant character work by both Keough and Skarsgard, as the worried parents who just want to find their son slowly turn more brutal and desperate as his absence wears on. Most of the film's plot falls on Jeffrey Wright's shoulders, as Hold The Dark focuses primarily on his point of view, and he more than admirably acts as a thematic anchor to the film's events and cast. As we follow his quest for the truth, we're treated to a supporting cast of characters that, through their various personalities and roles involved, enrich the overall puzzle that makes up Hold The Dark's story.
There may be some parallels drawn between this film and Taylor Sheridan's Wind River from last year, as both films are essentially stories of outsiders being brought in to solve a crime in a largely frozen world they are unfamiliar with. The big difference between the two films is that while Sheridan's offering was more of standard procedural, Hold The Dark is a more experimental approach to a similar story. Writer Macon Blair's screenplay, based off of the book of the same name by author William Giraldi, heads more in the direction of a vaguely supernatural examination of the events on display, opting for more of the feeling of a realistic horror movie, rather than a detective story.
Hold The Dark isn't a film that's easy to throw on in the background, with a group of friends, or even on a random day of the week. You need to be prepared to give your full, undivided attention, as this film goes to some dark places, and does not provide easy answers. Even the film's overall message can be interpreted in a couple different ways, but what's unquestionable is the fact that Jeremy Saulnier's fourth film further establishes him as a strong voice to watch out for in the world of modern filmmaking.