Hold the Dark – Jeremy Saulnier (2018)

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A Netflix frontier mystery which will probably leave you with more unanswered questions than you might care for, but the venture into this dark and twisted tale is worth the visual experience in itself.

Returning to the director’s chair following his last project, the fantastic Green Room (2015), Jeremy Saulnier heads up the latest Netflix original. Hold the Dark is, in essence, a murder mystery that explores themes of savagery, family and life on the border towns of civilisation. Called in by a grieving mother, Russell Core, portrayed by Jeffrey Wright, sets off to find the wolves that took her son only to find out that all is not what it seems in the Alaskan wildlands and that much darker forces are at work.

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Given the overly subdued nature of the film, the performances offer very little in terms of variety of characters in periods of dialogue. Much of the speech made by all is in whispers and short sentences, shared in dark rooms. Thematically it makes perfect sense, the darkness is scary and speaking in hushed voices sets a tone of secrets and hidden agendas. However, it isn’t particularly interesting or engaging to watch. The dialogue does have its bright moments and the film is far from unenjoyable, but you may find yourself rewinding and turning the subtitles on only to find that all that you missed was a pseudo-spiritual statement that has little bearing on the physical happenings of the plot.

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Where the film does stand out however is how it tells the story visually, with much of the dialogue only present to fill in the blanks. The majority of the plot is told through what you can see rather than what you can hear. Building off his own experience as a cinematographer, Saulnier works with Magnus Nordenhof Jønck to expertly shoot a beautifully crafted film. Stocked full of symbolism, foreshadowing and visual cues, this is the kind of film that you could turn the sound off all together, and still have a firm grasp on what is happening throughout the story. Hold the Dark represents a mode of filmmaking that is often lost in the modern Hollywood production line. It is a mode in which dialogue and sound take a back seat to the visual elements of the process. In doing this the director gains so much artistic freedom in the pursuit of his or her’s vision. Unfortunately, in today’s market, there isn’t really much of an audience for this kind of film, and therefore it will likely end up pushed under the rug.

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Hold the Dark is a very worthy addition to the growing backlog of Netflix Originals. It offers something different to the average popcorn movie but also has a touch of artistic brilliance in its visuals that allows it to be more than just an average, uninteresting, self-important art-house flick. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s certainly good enough if you’re in the mood for some snow, some wolves and some murder.

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