In Netflix’s new film, Hold the Dark, an Alaskan family is thrown into despair when their young son is attacked and killed by wolves. It is a chilling tale that explores the spirit of human emotion when dealing with love, loss, and vengeance. The story and tone are paced and detailed like a novel, which has people wondering: is Hold the Dark based on a book? The film is based on author William Giraldi’s novel, Hold the Dark, and was adapted into a screenplay by writer Macon Blair.
Hold the Dark tells the story of a young mother, Medora Sloane (Riley Keough), who enlists the help of wolf specialist Russel Core (Jeffrey Wright) to find the wolves that attacked her son, and to bring his remains back to her. Her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) is away at war in Iraq, but when he comes home to the grim news of his son, his pain and anguish turn into revenge.
While the story is purely fictional, Giraldi tells Romper that he was inspired by a news report about wolf attacks on a village in Pakistan where children went missing. “I was so drawn that story, to the otherworldly and mythic quality of it, that I knew I had to craft my own story from it,” Giraldi says. I knew I wanted to write a novel with that premise: a wolf attack on an isolated village, and what happens after that, after the children have been taken.”
But Giraldi chose to tell the story with an American backdrop, so the novel and film are both set in the remote mountains of Alaska. Giraldi says he chose Alaska because of its mysterious nature, describing it as "a perilous place of secrets." He says that along with fostering the imagination, the Alaskan landscape is a place of tremendous beauty too. “The locale needed to become a character of its own,” he explains. “Alaska is the last great untamed American landscape, a giant expanse that remains mostly a mystery and wholly alien to outsiders.”
Aside from the news article that inspired the story, Giraldi reveals that he drew thematic inspiration from two novellas — Thomas Mann's Death in Venice and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. “Both of those novels are grief punches to the gut, unrelenting in their intensity and their confrontation with desire and death,” says the author. “I wanted to do the same, but with this story of wolves in Alaska and a mother who maybe has killed her child, and the husband who goes psychotic with retribution and grief. Those books were my architectural models, my structural blueprints.”
Giraldi revealed that when writing Hold the Dark, he channeled some wolf stories that remained with him since he was a child, noting that the wolves are among “our most mythologized animals.” He explains, “Another chief influence was Jack London, and his stories of the unforgiving Yukon and of the human/animal clash in the The Call of the Wild and Whitefang, especially, have been in my mind since I was a child.” Giraldi continues, “So I tried to take some elements of genre fiction — the thriller, the suspense novel — and infuse them with a linguistic vibrancy, with a mythic reach.”
After watching the trailer for the film, I can see that much of Giraldi’s tone has found its way to the screen. The dark story is set in the intimidatingly beautiful Alaskan landscape, and with a cast of award-winning actors, I think Hold the Dark is going to be a thrilling watch.
Hold the Dark premiered on Netflix on Friday, Sept. 28.