Fantastic Fest 2018: Hold the Dark
Hold the Dark is an extremely faithful adaptation to William Giraldi’s book, pulling you in with insane violence driven by a code limited souls would understand. It is also a gut punch of a thriller, with a great mystery to crack at its center. If this plays at a theater near you, I recommend seeing this big so you can soak in all of the evil, err, I mean Alaska that cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck blesses you with. Speaking of camerawork: one of the things that stood out to me throughout was how well actors were framed amongst the wilderness. Trees makes perfect picture frames as well as cover an actor in peril’s face. Shots are never showy either. They are there to sell this darkness with no flash. Poised and controlled, every shot in this one matters.
Hold the Dark confirms that Jeremy Saulnier is a thriller filmmaking master. His sense of ratcheting up tension is still as sharp as his previous work, even with a much more open space to play with, he pulls you one way then drops you down a pitfall without you realizing you’ve been trapped. The material of the book is haunting and quite brutal, and rather than go full tilt with gore, Jeremy chooses to play it slow and earn all of his viscera with patient and calculated movements.
This relationship with Macon Blair, who adapted the screenplay, is proving to be quite a blessing for cinema. I really hope we see a ton more from both filmmakers. They make dark films, but they fully understand why they are dark and are able to dance within them with ease. Macon’s script while faithful still slips in a one liner or a joke that makes the material feel human no matter how insane it is starting to get.
Hold the Dark is the marriage of the harshest tundra and the pure human evil that resides there. No Country for Old Men comparisons will pop up for sure, and while they will make a great double feature, they are two separate animals. Besides, No Country is funnier if we get down to it so moving on. Hold has a knockout out cast that deserves mention of their great work. Jeffrey Wright uses his trademark grumble voice to perfect effect. He plays Russell Core, a man sent to hunt and kill a wolf who snatched a child. He is a damn near broken man who has obviously had problems maintaining relationships through his life. His pull of his first cigarette in years is the wonderful nuance he is a master at. It is great to see material match his weird because when it happens we get magic. Alexander Skarsgård plays our other lead and holy shit is he scary. He barely speaks throughout the film yet he is saying the most through his actions. They “save the cat” with him in an earlier war sequence only to turn that kindness completely on its ear. Skarsgård conveys so much with presence alone which is completely vital to his “wolfman.”
Riley Keough plays his grief stricken wife and man is she creepy. Teetering the line of insanity from loss or possibly a victim of her surroundings, her performance is quite chilling. James Badge Dale plays local law enforcement trying to deal with a carnage riddled community. James is quite possibly the most reliable male character actor in the game today and with Hold the Dark he shows off his chops yet again. His dealings with the madness ring so true, the beacon that makes the madness understandable to us normals. Finally, Julian Black Antelope who plays Cheeon is going to be remembered for many years to come for a jaw dropping shootout sequence alone but I hope you sink into his amazing brooding performance. He is dripping with hatred and he will not tolerate a second of your shit. The relationship between he and Skarsgård is silent and unspoken yet undeniably powerful.
Hold the Dark is definitely a Jeremy Saulnier motion picture. It drips with blood, but all the blood comes from a reasonable place. Nothing is ever wasted, not a scene or an action beat. Saulnier and company will make fans of the book happy and will most definitely get those who haven't read it the urge to do so. Having read the book beforehand, I knew what was to come before me and the filmmakers still managed to put my heart in my throat on more than one occasion. Humans and mother nature try to gut one another and the audience wins for it. See it big if possible and more from Macon and Jeremy, please.