Hold the Dark is set in Keelut, a fictional broken down village deep in the Alaskan Wilderness. Life here is as harsh as anywhere on the planet. The village inhabitants are mostly made up of Alaskan natives who have a spiritual connection to this wild place. The Inuit people have lived in these brutal conditions for thousands of years. With a religion based on animism and shamanism, mythological beliefs of spirits have emerged that bind all things together, in good ways and in bad.
The film is based on the novel of the same name written by William Giraldi. He uses a mixture of the brutal landscape and the connection of the Alaskan Natives in a clever way. It explores the way that wild places and isolation can shape people, or give them the environment in which they can live in their own unique way.
Visually this movie is just incredible. The overwhelming remoteness, coldness and darkness soaks through the screen. It creating an atmosphere that is as much a key role as any of the characters within the story. Right from the opening scenes the viewer leaps from one magnificent mountainous shot to the next. The director Jeremy Saulnier has built a great reputation for bringing dark thrillers to the screen like Blue Ruin and Green Room. He does a great job with Hold The Dark keeping a steady pace throughout. That allows the tension to build slowly and maximises the shock effect of the brutal bloody scenes that are plenty in this film.
The cast is quite limited due to the nature of the story, but whoever was in charge of casting did a fantastic job. Jeffrey Wright does an amazing job in the lead role. He plays a character who is wrestling with himself for truths of his own as much as the horrors that play out in front of him. Alexander Skarsgård carries himself perfectly in this role. His calm yet intimidating presence on screen is extremely unsettling and expresses the cool terror created by the nature of this man. Each of the cast is strong in their roles. A real standout comes from Julian Black Antelope who cuts an imposing figure that is magnetic to the camera and brings a horrific realism to the bloody shootout scene that happens midway through the movie.
As chilling thrillers go this film is as cold as it can get. It is extreme in every way and that includes the landscape. The one problem I had was that it left a lot of questions at the end. It felt like it was going to get to the point but it kept you hanging all the way through. Now to some people, this may make it a bit of a drag or feel like the story is going nowhere. But as mentioned previously, it is clear that the director did this to keep the tension as high as possible. So my advice would be to keep your eyes open and look for the answers that are placed throughout but not obvious.
This is a bold movie that never quite seems to get to where it is trying to go. But it kept me tense throughout and once the film had finished I could not help do a little research on some of the subtler things that weave this story together. I cannot wait to see it again to piece it all together. It may have been better if some things were made a little clearer. I certainly would have given it a higher score had I not had to carry out research afterward. One thing is for sure though – if I meet twins wearing animal masks in Keelut, I would get out of there as fast as my little legs could carry me.