Hold the Dark

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Hold the Dark Movie Poster Image
Hyperviolent, compelling thriller is graphic and brutal.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 125 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There's no limit to brutality humans perpetrate on one another. Savagery of humans is sharply contrasted with savage animal behavior (wolves) that's based on survival instinct.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Two heroic characters, a writer and a law enforcement officer, are brave, resourceful, determined, willing to sacrifice to stop evil. Human villains are either deranged from grief or conscienceless, cruel. Ethnic diversity: Native Americans are integral to story.


All manner of violent deaths. Weapons include knives, guns, machine guns, arrows. Camera moves in close to see characters die horrible, painful deaths. Blood is spilled, bodies fly, characters writhe in agony. Point-blank gun deaths shatter the human body and head. Children are victims of murder. A devastating rape occurs; broken up by man who knifes offender to death.


 Fully nude woman appears in shadow. Kissing, embracing.


Occasional profanity: "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "bastard," "motherf----r," "piss."


A reference to Campbell's soup.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcoholic beverages are consumed in several scenes. A man ingests a line of cocaine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hold the Dark is based on the critically acclaimed book by William Giraldi. Set in a remote area in Alaska, the film is extremely dark and extremely violent, and deals with overwhelming grief, supernatural occurrences, and immeasurable human cruelty. Viewers should expect countless brutal deaths: by knife, arrow, gunfire, guns, a machine gun, and fire. Nothing is left to the imagination: throats are cut, blood spurts, good guys succumb to point-blank gunfire, arrows pierce a man's jugular. A rape is interrupted, and a woman in artful shadows is fully nude. Occasional profanity is heard, including "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," "piss," and "motherf----r." Characters drink alcohol and one snorts cocaine. Not everything is fully explained; in some instances, the plot raises questions it opts not to answer, particularly with regard to Inuit legend and what might be devil worship. This film isn't for the squeamish and is definitely not for kids. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJonhRambo May 17, 2020
Adult Written byAlex44329 March 1, 2019

ok movie

little violent but boring in the end
Teen, 17 years old Written byTerminal May 17, 2020
Teen, 15 years old Written byDaexyn November 4, 2018

For Mature Viewers, but a Great Film

This movie is definitely intended for an older audience, as it should be. There is a multitude of horrific scenes that should not be shown to young children. Th... Continue reading

What's the story?

HOLD THE DARK opens on Bailey Slone (Beckham Crawford), a young boy playing with toy soldiers on a mound of snow in front of his rural house in a remote village in Alaska. Only moments later, the boy is gone. It's the third in a series of instances where children have disappeared from the area, all of them thought to have been carried off by wolves. Medora Slone (Riley Keough), Bailey's mother, is out of her mind with grief, and terrified about the effect their son's disappearance will have on her husband, Vern (Alexander Skarsgård), who is out of the country, serving in the U.S. Army. Medora writes a desperate letter to Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), a science writer and wolf expert. She begs him to come to Alaska, find the wolf responsible, and kill it. Only a few hours after Core arrives, the plot begins to twist and turn, plunging the unsuspecting writer into a whirlwind of revenge, bizarre behavior, and a hint of the dark arts. Mounting mystery and savagery erupts when Medora, too, disappears, and Vern Slone returns from the Middle East. Core teams up with smart, courageous lawman Donald Marium (James Badge Dale), but there's little they can do to stop or even slow down the escalating violence.

Is it any good?

With this, his fourth film, director Jeremy Saulnier continues to artfully disarm and shock his fans as he saturates them with heightened violence and brutality. Saulnier has assembled an extraordinary cast along with talented cinematographer Marcus Nordenhof Jonk and editor Julia Bloch to deliver a singularly frightening and complex thriller. Part slasher film, part teasing the occult, and mostly a devastating portrait of severely disturbed minds, Hold the Dark will surprise as confidently as it wreaks havoc. Alexander Skarsgård, who is said to have campaigned diligently for the role of Vern Slone, appears to avoid movies that celebrate his movie star handsomeness to find offbeat projects that explore a darker side (e.g., Big Little Lies, Mute). It works here. Jeffrey Wright is just right in the role of Core. And Alaska, with its lengthy dark nights and austere but astonishing visuals, is very much a central character in the movie.

Still, there are baffling moments -- plot elements that rise to the surface only to be (probably purposefully) unexplored. Those story points will leave viewers either puzzled or simply willing to accept Saulnier and the writers' impenetrable approach. Not for the faint of heart. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the setting in a movie can be as important as the characters and the plot. How was the remote Alaskan wilderness itself a "character" in Hold the Dark? Could this movie have had the impact it does if it were in a different location? Why or why not?

  • Think about the sequence that takes place on a battlefield in the Middle East. How did the filmmakers set up the character of Vern Slone in this sequence? What did they want you to know about him before he returned to Alaska?

  • The scene with the Indian Fighter, though short, was critical because it hinted strongly at what was behind Vern's extreme behavior. Did you get enough information from that scene to help make the plot and character more understandable?

  • The lengthy massacre by Cheeon in Hold the Dark may be described as a set pieceFind out the meaning of "set piece" in film terms. How did you feel about this sequence? When, if ever, is a movie or sequence in a movie too violent? Why is it important to understand the impact of violence in the media on kids?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

Themes & Topics

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