Hold the Dark is a 2018 thriller film directed by Jeremy Saulnier, written by his frequent collaborator Macon Blair (I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore) and based on the book of the same name by William Giraldi.
In rural Alaska, Medora Slone (Riley Keough) writes a letter to the retired naturalist and novelist Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to come hunt down the wolf that carried away her young son so that she can have something to show her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) when he returns from war. Russell answers her call, but quickly discovers that something much darker is going on.
The film premiered on Netflix on September 28, 2018.
- Bittersweet Ending: A hair's breadth from a Downer Ending, as Vernon and Medora vanish into the wilderness, escaping justice, and the town will likely become deserted by the following winter, but Core is rescued and his daughter visits him in the hospital.
- BrotherSister Incest: It's implied that Vernon and Medora are siblings. They are said to have the same Nordic features, and Medora says that she's known Vernon so long that she has no memories without him in them. Medora may have killed their son to spare him from the reality of his origins.
- Disappeared Dad: Implied. Something has estranged Russell from his daughter, and they haven't spoken since she moved to Alaska. Given that he is a naturalist who wrote about hunting a wolf, he was likely not around much for his daughter's upbringing. They are not so estranged that her daughter doesn't visit him in the hospital and show concern.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- Medora's letter refers to Russell as the man who wrote a book about killing a wolf, but we see his study is filled with his paintings of wolves, showing that Russell isn't a simple hunter.
- Vernon is introduced mercilessly gunning down a jeep full of insurgents, then casually setting his cigarette down to stab a fellow soldier who is raping a local Iraqi woman, then handing her the knife to finish the job while he fetches his cigarette. This is a dangerous man who is not without his own sense of morality.
- Gorn: The shootout between the police and Cheeon is shockingly violent, with one officer getting half his face blown off from behind.
- Grim Up North: The film takes place in rural Alaska, where life is hard and grim. Medora tells Russell that the city of Anchorage isn't the "real Alaska."
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The police have a remarkably difficult time hitting Cheeon, even though he's a stationary target without much cover. Shots behind his back show dozens of bullet holes covering the walls and ceiling all around him.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Vernon lands an arrow shot to the neck of Chief Marium from several hundred feet on his first pull.
- Karma Houdini: Both Vernon and Medora get away with their crimes, vanishing after killing nearly all the police in town.
- Knife Nut: Vernon's first scenes feature him stabbing a soldier with his combat knife. He uses another combat knife when he's back home.
- Malevolent Masked Men: Both of the Slones wear wolf masks when doing dark and strange things.
- Meaningful Background Event: We see Cheeon open the barn doors to reveal his machine gun in the background a few moments before anyone can react.
- Meaningful Name: The film takes place in and around the town of Keelut, which is an evil spirit in local Native American folklore that resembles a hairless dog.
- More Dakka: Cheeon opens fire on a large group of police officers with a machine gun, killing over a dozen.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The film was marketed as a kind of slasher movie, which it is not.
- Offing the Offspring: Russell watches a pack of adult wolves eating one of their own cubs. He explains that wolves sometimes do this to make the pack better prepared to endure hardship. This is carried over into Medora, who killed her son. It's implied she did this to spare him from the darkness of the world.
- Retirony: The police chief talks about taking his wife on a tropical vacation after this is all over. He's killed two scenes later.
- The Rez: The film mostly takes place in the fictional town of Keelut, Alaska, where the population is mostly poor Native Americans. There's obviously a lot of bitterness toward the government, as Cheeon accuses the local police of keeping his people down.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted. Vernon returns home and goes on a path to find his wife, but he has his own twisted motives. He kills anyone who says they're trying to find her as well as anyone who helped her or who gets in his way. When he does find her, they have creepy sex and run off together, having reunited with a singular purpose.
- Savage Wolves: Medora says that wolves carried off her son. Russell watches wolves eat their own young. An old native woman talks about winter attacks from wolves being common when growing up. Medora killed her own son, and she and Vernon wear wolf masks when doing dark and strange things. However, no wolves are actually seen to attack any humans throughout the film, even when they have opportunity, and Russell sympathizes with them. Ultimately wolves are just a symbol for the darkness in the human soul.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: None of our heroes make any impact on the story except to get more people killed. Medora has already killed her son, while Vernon kills his way to her and they both disappear with their dead son's coffin into the wilderness.
- Swiper, No Swiping!: When Cheeon is gunning down all the cops in his sight, Russell runs out and starts dragging a wounded cop away, right in front of Cheeon. When Cheeon points his gun at them, Russell shouts, "Just stop it!" Cheeon returns to firing on the other cops and allows Russell to continue dragging the wounded cop away.
- Unholy Matrimony: Vernon and Medora are both murderous and seem to be locked in a shared psychosis.