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Laramie Movie Scope: Hold the Dark

Mysticism and mass murder in Alaska

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 2, 2019 – Seemingly random murders, lots of them, don't seem to add up to much in this sombre, snow-covered gore fest with overtones of Native American mysticism.

Author and wolf expert Russell Core (played by Jeffrey Wright of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”) travels to Keelut, a remote village in Alaska at the request of a local woman, Medora Slone (played by Riley Keough of “It Comes at Night”) who says her son was one of several children killed by wolves in the village. She asks him to kill the wolf responsible for the death of her son.

Warning bells sound right away as Medora's behavior is very odd. For one thing, she takes off her clothes and lays down next to Core, putting his hands around her throat, as if requesting him to strangle her.

As Core walks from the village to find the wolf pack the next morning, a Native American elder, Illanaq (Tantoo Cardinal of “Wind River”) tells him that he should go back where he came from, and that Medora “... knows evil.” It turns out that Illanaq knows what she is talking about, and he should follow her advice. But, of course, he doesn't.

Core treks across a vast landscape, ably captured by cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck (“A War”) and discovers a hot spring inside a cave. He eventually also finds a wolf pack, but it is evident to him that these wolves did not kill the boy since the pack is devouring one of its own pups due to lack of food. Also, the wolves do not attack him. Core, and the leader of the wolf pack, regard each other from close range, then go their separate ways.

Core goes back to the village, but Medora is gone. Searching the house, he finds the body of the missing boy in a cellar, strangled and wrapped in plastic. It appears that Medora killed her own son and left the cellar unlocked so that the body would be found.

The boy's father, Vernon Slone (Alexander Skarsgård of “The Legend of Tarzan”) is a soldier who returns home at the time his son's body is found. He is shown earlier in the movie in Iraq killing Iraqis, then murdering another soldier who is a rapist.

The police chief from the nearest town, Donald Marium (James Badge Dale of “13 Hours”) asks Core to stick around in case Slone has questions for him, but Slone has only one question for Core, “Can you raise the dead?” Slone does thank Core, however, for finding his son.

Slone later goes on a mass murder spree, killing two policeman and the coroner before removing the body of his son from the morgue. With the aid of his Native American (Yup'ik) friend, Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope of “The Northlander”) they put the boy's body in a wooden box, marked with Slone's blood, presumably a Yup'ik ritual. They hide the box in a snow bank. Cheeon, too, has lost a child, presumable to the wolves.

As Slone goes off in search of Medora, Cheeon says he will buy some time for him. Cheeon has no use for the police, and when the police come for him at Keelut, there is a bloody battle. In his standoff with Marium and the police, he predicts that Marium will die.

More deaths follow as Slone goes after his wife, killing various people along the way, whether or not they had anything to do with the death of his son. He leaves some alive, perhaps due to some custom or his own sense of justice. The final confrontation between Slone, his wife and Core is resolved unexpectedly.

If there is any sense at all in all this killing, and there is quite a lot of killing, it may have something to do with the darkness inside Medora and Vernon Slone, as well as Cheeon. There is also evidence that the dead Slone boy may have also been evil, and maybe that's why he was murdered.

Yup'ik mysticism also plays a role. A native mask is worn by Slone when he kills two people and attacks a third. Two Yup'ik characters seem to have knowledge of future events, or of events for which they have no direct evidence. Neither Medora nor Vernon Slone look like they are Native Americans, but Vernon, at least seems to follow native customs.

I found the story fairly involving, even though it did not make much sense to me. It has a fine sense of place, and there is a lot of suspense because the murders seem so random and sudden you don't know who is going to die next. The acting is solid and the locations are often both rustic and exotic. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]