I enjoy programs about Alaska. Recently I wrote a review of the film Into the Wild (2007), which is the true story of a man who goes out to what is the last remaining wild place left in our country. Maybe that is not the best example as I find that film annoying, mostly because he dies due to not reading a book closely enough. My favorite piece of pop culture that focuses on our northern most state is Life Below Zero. If you have Disney +, then you can watch most of the seasons. Yes, it is a reality show, and as such there is some contrivance to it. Still, they are filming in some of the most severe climates and terrains on our planet, let alone the United States. There is also something comforting about watching it from the comforts of my warm Florida home as its various figures freeze their tuchuses off up there on the tundra, particularly in the winter. Given my love of this program, I thought a movie like Hold the Dark (2018) might be interesting. The only bit of enjoyment I got is when one of the characters says that Anchorage, the most populated city in the state, is not Alaska. I can almost hear this line on the lips of one of the persons on Life Below Zero. As for the rest of Hold the Dark, well. . . .
After I got my dad joke out of the way, “I’d like a large order of dusk, Hold the Dark,” I settled in for the rest of the movie. Young Bailey Slone (Beckam Crawford) is playing outside of his extremely rural Alaskan village, par for the Alaskan course, when he is dragged away by wolves. Or so we are led to believe. Distraught, his mother Medora (Riley Keough) writes to famed wolf expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to come help search for some remains of the boy. He comes not only to assist Medora, but because he has a daughter in Anchorage with whom he is estranged and hopes to make a reconnection. Apparently, loved ones get upset when you live with wolves for a year. He is unsuccessful on both first attempts, but not before he has a really strange encounter with Medora when she strips naked, climbs into bed with him, and proceeds to try to get him to choke her. Where is dad, you might ask? Vernon Slone (Alexander Skarsgård) is serving in the United States Army in Iraq, brutally killing Iraqis, and his own comrades when he finds them having sex with the locals. As he walks out of the building where this double crime takes place, he is shot and wounded by a sniper, and sent home. When he returns, he is picked up by one of his fellow villagers, Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope), who takes him to see the remains of his son. Bailey’s body had been recovered not while Russell trekked through the woods trying to find the wolves he assumed responsible for killing the boy, but when he returns to Medora’s cabin. There Russell finds Medora gone and Bailey wrapped in plastic in the basement. After mourning over his son, Vernon then shoots two police officers and the coroner, and takes Bailey back to his village. There he and Cheeon perform some vague pagan ritual and bury the body. Now Vernon must go after Medora. With two dead police officers, the local chief (sheriff?) Donald Marium (James Badge Dale) summons as many available officers as he can muster to go to the village and bring in Cheeon and Vernon. They find Cheeon, who makes it abundantly clear he is not ready to be taken into custody by opening fire with a large machine gun on all those gathered. Why any of this is necessary, I have no idea, but it happens. Russell is there, too, because something one of the village elders told him he thought might be a clue to Medora’s whereabouts. For whatever reason, he feels vaguely responsible for locating Medora, and he and Donald hope to do so before Vernon. Something that Medora said about a nearby hot spring suggested that they search there, which they do alone. Unsurprisingly, Vernon knows of this location, too, and ambushes the pair upon their arrival. Donald dies by having an arrow shot through is neck. Russell is luckier(?) in that the arrow he takes only wounds him after encountering Medora in the cave where the hot spring bubbles. Though knocked out for a while, he comes to in time for Vernon to pull out the projectile and walk off with Medora in tow. Russell dozes off again, then wakes up in an Anchorage hospital with his daughter by his side. The end.
I wish I could tell you definitively what is Hold the Dark’s point. I watched the whole thing, and I have no clue. I do have some thoughts, though. It hints at several things, but never follows through on any of them. For instance, one item the camera focuses on a couple of times is a wolf mask on the mantle of Medora’s fire place. There is also something off about both Medora and Vernon. Between their behavior, the masks, and the ritual that Vernon performs when burying Bailey, I thought we were going to be werewolves, or something mythical. But, no, Medora and Vernon are just your garden variety psychotics. And despite Medora running away to avoid Vernon, they end up together in the end? Huh? No, thank you. There is also a half-explored theme of bad relations between whites and native peoples. Most of this is covered when Donald attempts to arrest Cheeon. This takes about five minutes. For as brief as this exchange is, though, it certainly comes with an exclamation point when Cheeon opens fire on the police! What you are left with is a somewhat slow-moving slasher movie with some outlandish window dressing. It could be just me and my lack of enjoyment from such movies, or understanding, but it is not my cup of tea.
As a Catholic watching Hold the Dark, how grateful am I for my Faith. I get it, not all religions outside of Christianity teach that you should brutally murder whoever catches your fancy. I say this because, however vague it is, there seems to be some kind of wolf cult to which Medora and Vernon belong. It involves bloodletting, divination, acting like wolves, and some other difficult to decipher stuff that the film gives no help in explaining. There is a reason why the Catholic Church takes the stance it has on such sects. Yes, there have been times when their views have been taken too far, as during the Spanish Inquisition. However, how can anyone look at Medora (who it is suggested is the one that actually killed Bailey) and Vernon’s actions and say, yeah, I am cool with what they are doing. I would like everyone who would say they are against that statement to become Catholic, and I pray that happens. Yet, if nothing else, can we at least all agree that any “religion” that holds such brutality as its tenets is wrong?
Hold the Dark has pointless violence and nudity, so I cannot see a reason for anyone to watch it. Further, my favorite character, Donald, a family man with a good moral compass, is killed. The one person with which I could identify, even if I am not yet married, dies. Sorry, Alaska, but this one is not worthy of you. If you need an Alaskan fix, watch Life Below Zero instead.