M.L. Miller here! As I go into my tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Seven of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2017 and going through September 30, 2018. I have posted Best of lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on September 28, 2018. Streaming on Netflix!
HOLD THE DARK (2018)
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Written by Macon Blair (screenplay by), William Giraldi (based on the book by)
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, Riley Keough, James Badge Dale, Julian Black Antelope, Beckam Crawford, Tantoo Cardinal, Jonathan Whitesell, Savonna Spracklin, Peter McRobbie, Macon Blair, Bobbi Jaye
While HOLD THE DARK could be seen as a hard-edged drama, a soulful action adventure, a crime laden thriller, or a savage man vs. nature style film, I can’t help but see it as a heady horror film. I hope this review can somehow explain why I feel this way, so walk with me, even if you disagree on what genre this film truly falls into. In the end, it’s a marvelous achievement signifying Saulnier as a treasure true cinephiles will find priceless. For me, though, HOLD THE DARK can be categorized as an existential werewolf film and maybe one of the best werewolf films you’re ever going to see.
Now don’t start doubting you saw some other film than I did. There are no transformation sequences or pentagrams on the wrist. There are no hairy palms or connected eyebrows or even mention of a silver bullet. None of the werewolf lore is present. Still, this is more about that old chestnut about the two wolves at war within us all. HOLD THE DARK’s main theme is the animal in all of us and how it is so easy for that animal to tear through that façade society makes us wear in order for us to get along in polite company. For the life of me, I couldn’t stop likening this one to another thinking-man’s werewolf film WOLFEN—mainly because if you look at this as a symbolic tale of man’s struggle to war with the wolf within, you might just see where I’m going with this one.
The story goes like this. In a dreary Alaskan town, the scant populace knows not to venture too far out into the woods as a vicious pack of wolves seem to be on the hunt. With two abductions already occurring with no bodies to be found, a woman named Medora Sloane (Riley Keough) believes her son Bailey to be the pack’s next victim as he has disappeared. With her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) overseas in the military, Medora sends a letter to Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) asking for help. Russell wrote a book about how he hunted down a wolf and killed it, so Medora believes that he can find the wolves that ate her son and do the same. Events bring Vernon back home as Russell makes a disturbing discovery putting everyone on the hunt for each other. What proceeds involves wolf masks, machine guns, bows and arrows, wolves, and much, much carnage.
HOLD THE DARK is not a movie I want to spoil, but I do want to talk about it, so it might be best to just know at this point that it’s a fantastic movie with stellar performances, grueling scenes of wartime carnage as well as more horror and blood back home in the cold north, and some of the most beautiful scenery you’re going to see. Saulnier takes his time in this film soaking in the atmosphere, leaving long moments for us to feel the cold and that shiver Jefffrey Wright endures through this whole film. Not only is it freezing outside, but there is an almost supernatural or alien coldness that makes everything inhuman and without emotion. Saulnier communicates this expertly throughout, be it with the cold stares of the cast, the slow pacing of the dialog, or just shots of the icy snow that covers everything.
Now, I know folks might get annoyed because of a few things going on with this film. The characters all speak in the Lynchian slow speak, making every word count and sink in. This is no Tarantino film where folks babble for five minutes before the plot decides to proceed. This film relies on everything but the dialog to propel the story, but when the words are spoken, you know they are important because it feels all of the characters involved measure them closely. This film also is very broad. Sure, you can follow it through the vicious actions, the blood and the wolves, and rooting for your favorite stars to survive. But it is a film that isn’t an easy digestion. It makes you think. It doesn’t explain everything by the end. Hell, it doesn’t explain much in the end. But it does give clues and those clues are fascinating. So while this is film has some scenes that are absolutely riveting (the farmhouse machine gun shootout is one of the most tension laden sequences I’ve endured since Michael Mann’s HEAT), it’s the subtle hints in the dialog and the actions of the characters that reveal another level to this film to enjoy if you want to do the work.
As I wrap this review up, there will be SPOILERS, as it has to do with the werewolf analogy. Throughout the film, everyone is coping with their own wolves inside of them. Wright’s Russell is in the latter years of his life, regretful of his wilder days keeping him away from his daughter. THE DEPARTED’s James Badge Dale is a sheriff coping with his duty to two packs—his wife and unborn child and his squad of rookie deputies who are ill equipped to deal with the hell Vernon is unleashing on this small town. And then there are the Sloanes, both wolves themselves, acting out horrific behaviors only seen in the wildest of wolves. This point is driven home when Vernon dons the wolf mask when he is on the trail of Medora, who has acted pretty savagely herself, it turns out. All of these monsters—banging around each other howling at the moon and baring their teeth. It makes for one hell of a monster mash, by the end. END SPOILER
So, while this isn’t your typical horror film, it does show how horrific man can truly be to one another. Wright offers up another sympathetic performance. Keough again gives off that alien vibe she seems to emanate in every role she plays. Dale is fantastic and you root for him to succeed, even though the odds are stacked tall against him as the noble, yet beleaguered sheriff. And Skarsgard is a force of nature with his cool demeanor and ever threatening glare. Saulnier has offered up some pretty palpable swan-dives into the abyss of despair and does so again with a much bigger budget, proving that there is nothing to go but up for this immensely talented filmmaker (props also have to go to Mason Blair, who has been with him all the way and whose script is resonant here). Saulnier was already a filmmaker I paid close attention to. HOLD THE DARK elevates him up to the master class. However you categorize this film, HOLD THE DARK is excellence in moviemaking and should not be missed.
THE 2017-2018 COUNTDOWN!
#5 – HOLD THE DARK
#6 – INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND
#7 – GET MY GUN
#8 – CREEP 2
#9 – GHOST STORIES
#10 – ANNIHILATION
#11 – FAKE BLOOD
#12 – MON MON MON MONSTERS
#13 – THE ENDLESS
#14 – THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
#15 – LET HER OUT
#16 – FOUND FOOTAGE 3D
#17 – DOWNRANGE
#18 – BLACK HOLLOW CAGE
#19 – HAPPY DEATH DAY
#20 – MOM & DAD
#21 – THE LANDING
#22 – TONIGHT SHE COMES
#23 – THE RITUAL
#24 – THE BABYSITTER
#25 – MARROWBONE
#26 – BETTER WATCH OUT
#27 – THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD
#28 – BE MY CAT: A FILM FOR ANNE
#29 – PYEWACKET
#30 – TERRIFIER
#31 – MAYHEM
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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