With its unsettling aesthetic and larger-than-life characters living at the fringe of civilization, HOLD THE DARK (2018) is superb Arctic noir, even if it ends on a very murky note.
Retired wolf expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) travels to a village in northern Alaska at the request of Medora Slone (Riley Keough), a young woman whose son was taken by wolves. Core sets out to track the wolves who did it, only to make a startling discovery. Meanwhile, Medora’s husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) returns from the Iraq War filled with rage over the death of his son and hell-bent on revenge. As local cop Donald Marium (James Badge Dale, who was great in THE PACIFIC) tries to stop Vernon, Core is drawn into a “heart of darkness” trek.
With the moody, brooding Alaskan wilderness aesthetic, the strange and insular people who populate it, and the decisive violence that follows a natural rather than man-made law, HOLD THE DARK is pretty powerful stuff. Core is forced to gaze into the heart of darkness in order to return to civilization and embrace life, while Medora and Vernon fully embrace the darkness and become as wolves themselves. The end is conclusive in regards to character but not really plot, which may leave some viewers puzzled. Despite its murky ending, the strong characters and story punctuated by very real and electrifying violence are engaging, resulting in a thumbs up from this viewer.