A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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 piece. Find 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?
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