Sep 29, 2018
Welcome back to Streaming Saturdays! Today’s film is one that was delayed by Netflix in part as a retaliation against the Cannes Film Festival’s rules for movie consideration. I know, I hate it when the oligarchs can’t play nice, too. What really sucks is that today’s film was also a contender for Cannes, and had to be delayed to this weekend. Does it live up to the subversive hype? I’ll let you know in a minute, but if you want to see another film by director Jeremy Saulnier, check out “Green Room” (Episode #054). And if you have any suggestions, or any feedback about Netflix versus Cannes, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Hold The Dark” (2018), the Netflix Original thriller directed by Jeremy Saulnier and written for the screen by Macon Blair, based on the novel by William Giraldi. The film follows Medora Slone (Riley Keough) whose son, and two others, have presumably been killed by a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. She calls in naturalist Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to hunt down the wolves responsible, but when he makes a startling discovery, and when Medora’s spouse Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) returns home, he starts on a bloody path of revenge that uncovers some dark secrets.
I love intentional filmmaking, especially filmmaking that understands how to bring all the elements in a film together towards a unified expression. I’ve seen that process with the biggest of blockbusters, like “Avengers: Infinity War” (Episode #120), and with smaller films, like one of my personal favorites, “Mirrormask” from Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. And the hardest part of intentional filmmaking is to not make it either too obvious or too abstract. I spoke a great deal in my review for “Green Room” (Episode #054) about how Saulnier’s experience as a cinematographer has influenced his direction, and today’s film is no exception.
“Hold the Dark” continues Saulnier’s technique of using color to communicate meaning, but instead of green or blue, this film focuses on black and white, and even more importantly, the grey that appears at the edges. The Alaskan wilderness, especially during the winter months, has long dark nights and blindingly white snow during the day, but within human settlements, it’s gray everywhere, much like how living on the frontier is in the gray part of civilization. We often think of ourselves as somehow above the animals, but Vernon Sloane’s path of destruction cares nothing for morality or other higher orders of thinking. His path, from after he identifies his son, to when he finally catches up with Medora, is one of calculated, sociopathic rage, which made me sit up in my seat more than once, and mumble, “Holy shit...”. And the beauty of Saulnier’s filmmaking, and Macon Blair’s writing, is that while I would never condone Vernon’s actions, I could understand them, and for this dark material, that’s both fascinating and frightening.
The entire cast is great, and I haven’t even gotten to James Badge Dale as Donald Marium, local law enforcement tracking Vernon, or Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon, Vernon’s friend, who makes an amazing last stand reminiscent of Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”. From beginning to end, I was completely engaged, and didn’t mind the two hour running time one bit. It’s a film like this that makes me really frustrated with the larger social debate about what constitutes “a real movie”, whether that requires a formal theater presentation, and given the incredible production value of modern television, whether the distinction of a so-called “television movie” or “direct to streaming movie” even makes sense. Saulnier has created an amazing film, way better than many films that actually made it to the theaters, and yet, it’s somehow not eligible for certain festivals and award shows.
“Hold The Dark” (2018) is a gritty frontier tale, told in modern times, and utilizing ancient lands and themes. Macon Blair’s adaptation and Jeremy Saulnier’s direction are exquisite, along with the rest of the cast. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it is most definitely a dark and violent film, but it also has some of the most stunning cinematography and camera work I’ve seen all year. Fans of Macon Blair or Jeremy Saulnier should definitely check out this film, along with anyone else who loves a good depressing story of tragedy.
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
One Movie Punch: 9.6/10
“Hold The Dark” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.