Fantastic Fest Review: Hold the Dark
Humanity's animal instincts in Netflix's Alaskan Western
By Matthew Monagle,
10:39AM, Sun. Sep. 23, 2018
In a country long tamed by communities and corporations, Alaska’s mythology lingers. People view Alaska as the true final frontier, a distant and rugged land where the concerns of the modern world are kept at bay by the practicalities of survival.
This is certainly the perspective shared by Netflix’s Hold the Dark, the latest atmospheric thriller from director Jeremy Saulnier.
Wolves have long plagued the remote Alaskan village of Keelut, so when local army wife Medora Slone (Riley Keough) loses her child in a sudden attack, she reaches out to author and wildlife tracker Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to bring justice to her family. Core has a deadline: Medora’s husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) is headed home following an honorable discharge, and she needs her revenge before he returns. But when Core discovers that man, not beast, may have killed Medora’s child, he kicks off a cycle of violence that will result in dozens of deaths.
In Hold the Dark, Saulnier and his frequent collaborator Macon Blair (here adapting William Giraldi's novel) have created their own unique variation of the neo-Western. Most contemporary Westerns borrow a visual language from the genre while choosing to present ours as a rational world; here the lines between man and nature are blurred, imbuing the film with a subjectivity more common in folk-horror. This is an element of mythologization we rarely see in contemporary Westerns but one that fits neatly within the film’s Alaskan setting.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a film from the director of Blue Ruin and Green Room without breathtaking acts of violence, and here he delivers some of his most brutal acts of carnage yet. The film’s most memorable sequence is a prolonged shootout when the big city cops cross paths with local ways; a grotesque reminder that, for many rural communities, outsiders are not to be trusted. Challenging, dreamlike, and unrelentingly bleak, Hold the Dark is a western – and a Saulnier film – unlike any other.
Hold the DarkU.S. Premiere
Thu., Sept. 27, 8pm
Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 20-27. For more news, reviews, and interviews, as well as our daily show with the oneofus.net podcast network, visit austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.