Warning! This article spoils the shit out of Netflix’s latest exclusive feature, Hold the Dark.
Jeremy Sauliner doesn’t fuck around.
Rugs are pulled from feet, trope-ish “tough guys” are unceremoniously cut down and crucial, game-changing exposition is slipped between seemingly offhand lines of dialogue.
Hold the Dark, his latest feature, is currently sitting somewhere in the mid-to-high 60’s on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. User reviews are even harsher, with the film tagged as “confusing”, “full of plot-holes” and “depressing”.
Which is only 66.6% correct.
Hold the Dark, taken at face value, looks and feels like the kind existential-action-thriller that would sit well on a shelf beside Sicario (the first one, mind, and definitely not the flag-waving sequel). However, if you saw either of Sauliner’s previous films, Green Room and Blue Ruin, you’ll be familiar with the director’s signature blend- it’s an initially bold cocktail, with a complex ‘Do-It-Yourself’ aftertaste.
The first flavour is a fun, greasy midnight-movie genre one; Neo-Nazis? Killer wolves? Hobo revenge? So far, so grind-house. Throw in a bit of brooding pop-nihilism, a sprinkle of Game of Thrones-esque lurches from conventional narrative structure (“Fuck! If that character can die, I guess anyone can!”) and a smidge of gore, then two hours later it’s credits. If you’re anything like me, you’re left with a big satisfied grin. Movie violence and existential dread! What’s not to love? But, if you’re still anything like me (poor you), then the grin soon becomes a frown, and head-scratching, and steam from the ears as rusty gears turn in your head.
…because, no, hold on a sec… what exactly was all that business about Neo-Nazi infighting? I get that there was, like, some conflict, and one of them was leaving, I think, because… another one was secretly selling drugs and… someone found out, maybe?
…and hang on, so… why didn’t the wolves eat that guy, exactly? I feel like that scene was supposed to make me go “Oh! I get it!” except… I totally didn’t, and totally don’t. And why did they just walk off into the woods with the body? And what was the deal with the masks? And that hunter dude saying how similar the husband and wife looked? And all that nonsense about time-zones and when the sun goes down?
As viewers we’ve been trained to expect a debrief scene. In a movie with this many threads, there’s usually a scene near the end where a character (ideally in a brown suit, with optional moustache) sits down, pours a coffee and explains the answers. Jeremy Sauliner doesn’t do that. In his words, speaking to thrillist.com; “When you spelled it out and tried to wrap it up in a bow at the end, it just lost its power”.
This isn’t one of those articles where some self-important “intellectual type” sits and tells people their reading of a film is wrong. Opinion is opinion, and I am not a clever man. That said, seeing the accusations online of “plot-holes” I did feel a need to speak up and say; “that’s just how it goes with Sauliner!”. I resisted the urge to do so in a Fedora. Hopefully that buys me some leniency?
In Hold the Dark, and indeed Sauliner’s previous movies, you are given the jigsaw pieces you need. There aren’t plot-holes. You’re just denied the “Bruce-Willis-being-a-ghost” montage in Act Three.
So, without stealing away the fun of doing it for yourself, let me throw you a couple of geeky post-exam, bonus-round questions to ponder before you slam Hold the Dark for not making sense;
- Re-consider the Old Woman’s monologue about influenza, and Cheeon’s interaction with the Sheriff, in relation to what they suggest might have happened before the movie began (25 credits)
- Why is the movie called Hold the Dark? Could it have something to do with the Mother character’s line about blackness? (50 credits)
- Take every character relationship you’ve presumed and deconstruct it. Hint: some people might be more closely related than you thought (100 credits)
Hold the Dark released to Netflix on September 28th 2018. You should watch it tonight. It’s got a two-hour run-time, but I’d recommend scheduling another 30 minutes afterwards for arguing with your significant other about the territorial patterns of North-American Yukon wolves.