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Motif Non Grata

Hold the Dark follows a writer and huntsman, Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), as he travels to the Alaskan wilderness upon being hired by a local woman begging for vengeance on the wolf that killed her boy. As the history of the woman and the town unravel, Core finds himself entrapped in a dark and murderous game seemingly brought on by the environment the townspeople find themselves in.

Hold the Dark Review

The joke today was probably a bit too obscure...but to ruin it further by explaining it...director Jeremy Saulnier has had actor Macon Blair in each one of his films, and this movie is no exception. He does have a role. So if you're familiar with that actor, keep an eye for him! (He also co-wrote the script for Hold the Dark.)

Where to begin? I suppose I could start with the amount of anticipation I had for this film. I was very excited to hear that Jeremy Saulnier was directing a Netflix original. I've loved all of Saulnier's previous works and I expected him to break through Netflix's generally mediocre cinematic barrier to bring a truly dark and foreboding tale to critical acclaim.

Known by general audiences for Green Room and critics for Blue Ruin, Saulnier quickly built a name for himself as a premier director of the dark and gritty. He establishes tense atmosphere and visceral violence that help to tell stories in ways rarely seen. So, with the ominous trailer of Hold the Dark, I was expecting more of the same.

And in many ways Saulnier delivered. Hold the Dark, from a cinematic and atmospheric perspective, is another gem. The impact of every scene is haunting and engaging. The problem, which was very likely intentional and purposeful, was the story. Not even necessarily the writing, but the story itself. The characters feel fleshed out, the motivations are mostly sensible and driven, but the story is evanescent and convoluted in its delivery.

Again, I think this is intentional. The primary antagonists of the tale are woven in such a way that it feels like the chaos of the Joker applied in a more realistic world. But, for me, instead of having the impact that the Joker has because of his fictional basis, you keep seeking out answers in Hold the Dark that refuse to come to fruition. There simply aren't direct answers to incredibly pertinent questions. You simply have to assume chaos incarnate.

It makes the entire film captivating, but the climax maddening. I wanted so much more that I was on the verge of anger. But anger at the film for not conveying what I would've liked, or anger at myself for not getting the necessary themes that wrap the story in a perfect bow? Or is the bow purposefully not perfect? Is there even a bow?

The film did its job of getting me to continue to pour into it long after the credits rolled. Saulnier, as the director, does a great job of escorting you along the dark and morbid journey. Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgard are all incredible, even if the motif of the latter two goes over my head most of the time (except for Skarsgard's opening scene, which is powerful and impactful). So, really, it's a film that is fully effective, but perhaps overly nuanced when it's all said and done.

This is our last review before Telluride Horror Show this weekend! We're ready for Friday!

Horror Rating System

Horror Qualifier: 7/10

Horror Quality: 6/10

Film Quality: 8/10

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