You like to think you’re devoted to your child. And you tell people this, “I’d do anything for ’em, anything.” And…it feels correct in your mouth when you say it, and you just go ahead with your life.
Hold the Dark is an interesting film, to say the least. It touches on profound topics such as grief and mourning, justice, and “closure.” The film attempts to deal with these topics, but they tend to get lost in the theme. The primary theme has to deal with wolves, both literal and metaphorical. Both the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and the “sheepdog metaphor” can be seen at play in their contrasting juxtaposition.
Since this page is more focused on the technical aspects of film making and not the nuances of story telling and thematic arches, I’ll digress from the latter point. That in mind, please forgive me if I mention distinctions between the two metaphors from this point forward. The reason for that is simply because so much of the sordid story has those elements finely engrained.
Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is an author who has dedicated his work to the study of wolves, and has been asked to investigate the death of a young boy in a rural Yup’ik village by the boy’s mother, Medora Slone (Riley Keough). Medora believes her son was taken and killed by a pack of wolves, and wants Russell to find evidence of this as well as cull one of the suspected animals before her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård), returns from his deployment. Vernon is sent home due to a battlefield injury, and finds his wife missing and his son deceased.
From that summary alone, know that antidepressants will compliment your viewing snacks. Russell figures out his real part to play in the story in the beginning of the second act, stating that he thinks he needs to “tell her story.” In that sense, and without giving spoilers, that’s where the concept of “closure” comes in to play.
As expected from Wright, he delivers the same quality of performance that audiences have come to expect from him. Keough performs her role in a manner that is jarring yet oddly convincing, whereas Skarsgård plays a rigid role that is quite telling of his character’s overly controlled nature.
There’s a clear line between people who fall in the category of sheepdogs, and those that more closely resemble a wolf in sheep’s clothing (and sometimes in sheepdog’s clothing). This is visually presented to great effect in the film! While this is used for foreshadowing, it’s more frequently used for distinguishing the proper archetypes of the characters.
As a whole, Hold the Dark is a decent film with a story that is reminiscent of Eastern European classics, that is to say simple and melancholy. However, this doesn’t tend to bode well in film, and is sparsely delivered to give the audience a point of reflection. For example, The Brothers Bloom excelled with this style of ending in the fact that is delivered a clear happiness wrapped in the more depressing aspects. Hold the Dark on the other hand only presents a slimmer of happiness that is so vague it’s lost in the darker elements.
I’ve voiced my concerns about Netflix Originals before, and this is an improvement. But only just. Quality actors, quality directing, and a good story are all great elements of a film, but they don’t mean much if the whole of the story leaves the audience confused and conflicted.