*Warning this article contains spoilers for Hold The Dark.*
If you’ve added this to your watchlist on Netflix, I wouldn’t bother, it’s definitely tenacious and thrilling but Hold The Dark leaves us with too many unanswered questions. It felt like it was trying to be too complex with its existential ideas.
Hold The Dark is based on a novel by William Giraldi. The adaptation is a mystery thriller set in a remote Alaskan village. Russell Core, a naturalist and wolf expert receives an uneasy letter from a lady in Alaska, Medora Slone, explaining that children have been killed by wolves, one of them being Medora’s. Russell makes his way to Alaska to investigate and soon finds out things are getting weird. He discovers Medora’s son was wrapped in plastic in her basement and looked like he was strangled to death. When Russell puts together that Medora’s letter is a lie and that she killed her own child, she disappears into the wilderness.
Meanwhile, Medora’s husband Vernon is in the midst of a bloodbath, fighting a war in Afghanistan, he suffers an injury and is sent back home only to find out his son is dead. Okay, while the plot so far seems pretty eerie, it gets worse. What happens next is a large group of people chasing each other through Alaska with guns, Medora disappears into the cold snowy landscape, Vernon kills two policeman that were after Medora. Russell and Chief Marium hunt Vernon down but it ends up in a long chaotic shooting, that leaves the majority of the people in the movie dead. Towards the end, Medora and Vernon head out to a hot springs with Russell, the Sloans depart and leave Russell behind. They then dig up their son’s coffin and walk off into the distance. Credits roll.
Okay, where to start…
1.What the heck is with the masks?
Throughout the movie, the masks show up quite a bit and it’s instrumental to the whole idea of the story. The first time we see the masks is when Medora, after bathing, walks naked out to where Russell is sleeping, wearing the wolf mask she took off the wall. She silently slips into bed with him and takes Russell’s hands and puts them around her neck, suggesting to choke her. (That scene within itself was just weird.)
So now, she feels bad for killing her son and wants punishment? And is the mask to reveal her inner wolf? It’s never answered.
Throughout the film it’s clearly shown that Medora is mentally unstable, so could she just be possessed by wolf spirits? I mean, the villagers believe so, but there’s no real evidence. Strange.
Vernon also wears a wolf mask, when he visits a rural indian hunter, Vernon heard that that’s where Medora was last. He sees that Medora left her mask, and grabs himself another mask to put on, “I can see you need to let the wolf out a little,” the hunter says. As soon as the mask is on, he shoots him. Vernon also kills an innocent man that was helping him with a wound. I don’t understand why he’s killing innocent people, it’s just unnecessary. Is he possessed too?
Side note, the masks just look dumb, and what made them behave like wolves anyway, is it wolf-demon posession?
I can understand what the director was trying to portray through this artsy symbolism but I feel like it didn’t translate. The film does a good job at showing the heart of darkness, but it’s unclear if the masks are supposed to show.
2. Medora and Vernon are brother and sister
Yes. There’s incest, but why? How does it add to the story? Medora states she never “met” Vernon but always knew him. The rural hunter also makes a comment about the two of them having the same hair and eyes. We also see a family photo of them as children. It’s definitely implied throughout the movie, which makes it all the more spine- chilling.
3. Why did Medora kill her son?
Was she afraid to let her son grow up in a dark world? Was it because of the incestual relationship between her and Vernon? Or was it symbolizing the pack of wolves killing their own pup in order to survive? Also, the Alaskan Native villagers believe she’s possessed by a wolf-demon, but who really knows?
4. Vague ending and what’s up with the sky?
There’s no answers given when it comes to the end of this movie. By the end of the film, we see Medora and Vernon digging up their son’s coffin and walking off with it, then we see two wild wolves running in the snow. Firstly, where’d the son’s coffin go? And secondly, are they both real wolves now, not just metaphorically? Does the end scene symbolize that they’re free and have been turned into their true forms? We’ll never know.
Early in the film, Medora mentions to Russell about the sky, saying “there’s something off, there’s something wrong with the sky here.” Huh, what’s that supposed to mean? This line is recurring, Medora says to Russell “now you understand about the sky, don’t you? as she’s leaving the hot springs.
I totally get that there’s something off with the village and place, maybe the isolation from civil society makes humans insane? Regarding the sky, there’s not much explanation. Maybe it’s the darkness in the sky that hovers over them. The ending will forever be a mystery.
These are just a few strange encounters I found with this film, and I’m still very confused by the majority of it. As far as the story goes, there’s a lot of gaps that aren’t filled. It did a good job at making me feel dismal and uncomfortable though. However, it did not at all feel like an inspiration, so that’s 2 hours of my time I’ll never get back.