Recently I wrote about the movie Solaris and how George Clooney’s performance was a wonderful study in subtlety and stillness. This evening I had the occasion to watch another film which, while wholly different in most respects, hit many of the same chords. Tonight I had the unique pleasure of seeing Hold the Dark.
Infrequently I come across a movie that is expertly crafted but would be all but impossible for me to recommend to a wide audience, and this mystery/suspense drama certainly fits the bill. Though there is some measure of gore, more to the point the film presents more emotional dread and nihilistic worldview than I think many people I know would be comfortable with. The movie has the audience asking many, many questions, and very few answers are to be found.
Jeffrey Wright delivers a phenomenal performance in a movie that is largely difficult to describe. Is it a study of family, of isolation, of loss, of redemption? Does it detail the intersection of the slow-moving but inexorable modern intrusion into indigenous belief systems? Is it a crime drama, supernatural suspense, or wilderness film? I will do my best to give an introduction to the movie, spoiling as little as possible.
A writer is summoned to a remote Alaskan village, where a mother explains that wolves have taken several of the town’s children, and that she needs revenge – she asks the writer, who is an expert on wolves, to kill her son’s killer. Thus begins a film filled with long, near-silent pauses, determined looks into the middle distance, and a story that winds through far more than what appears on the surface.
I went into Hold the Dark completely blind; it had come up several times on my Netflix recommendations, and feeling in a mood to watch some snowy wilderness drama, I turned it on. As I’ve said above, even after watching – and thoroughly appreciating the work – I still don’t have a good, simple, categorization that could sum up the movie. It is a brutal, chilling (no pun intended), stoic look at what it is to be human and what it is to have family. But then there are the gunshots. And the blood. And the outlook of the main characters.
This movie reminded me of Syriana and Bone Tomahawk, two excellent movies that I also have a difficult time recommending to others. The former is a bleak examination of international politics and the latter a Western/Horror mashup, but both see fantastic performances by top actors working with phenomenal scripts and direction. Both are hard to watch, however, because the situations are achingly human in ways that more realistic or commonplace stories seem to miss.
Jeffrey Wright has been making waves recently with Westworld, which is on my “I should watch that sometime,” and James Badge Dale has been on my radar since I first saw him in 24. Everyone performs wonderfully, and the movie is so full of subtle moments, both intellectual and emotional, that tell the real story of what’s going on even beneath the subtext of the scenes.
Even though I have referenced several other films above, I can’t truly say that people who like those would like this one, or vice versa. Hold the Dark combines the isolation and mystery of Solaris, the bleak emotional desolation of Syriana, and the unexpected visceral horror of Bone Tomahawk – perhaps drawing from each but expanding in its own unique way.
In short, I think it serves as a fantastic film and one that is worthy of all analysis and accolade. Is it for everyone? Absolutely not. Is it for most people? Absolutely not. Is it for many people? Not really.
For those with a strong constitution (emotionally and physically) who are interested in adventuring into some pretty extreme depths, I would suggest giving Hold the Dark a try.
If nothing else. I’d love to have someone with whom I could talk about this movie – it’s not the kind of film I could casually bring up at a dinner party.