The premise sounds like it could potentially be real: A young boy is killed by a pack of wolves and his mother hires someone to get the wolves to stop terrorizing their remote Alaska town. But, that's just how things get started in Hold the Dark, which is not a true story — as made increasingly clear as the plot unfolds.
The film, which will be released on Netflix on Sept. 28, is based on the 2014 novel by William Giraldi. It centers around three characters: Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), and Medora and Vernon Sloane (Riley Keough, Alexander Skarsgård). While Vernon is away at war, a wolf attacks his and Medora's son, and Medora asks Russell, a nature writer and wolf expert to track down and kill the wolves and bring back her son's remains. From that point on, things get more and more strange with Medora behaving oddly and Vernon soon returning from Iraq.
The film is very violent, so if you can't handle guns and blood (and, well, wolves killing a child), then this probably isn't the one for you. The book itself was extremely violent too, with the New York Times review noting, "It’s all but bereft of levity, spectacularly violent and exquisitely written. If dust jackets were more than paper and ink, this one would bear blood and frost."
As for just how far beyond reality Hold the Dark goes, you'll have to see the movie to find out, but just know that things get things get pretty spooky — not just in a scary way, but in a questioning humanity and how we interact with nature way. In an interview with the Huffington Post in 2015, Giraldi spoke about how humans relate to wolves, and the book characters' connections to nature, which are stronger because of their location in Alaska's wilderness. "On the other side of it," the author said, "you and I and others like us, back here in the world: we have to contend with that tamping, society’s will to snuff out all that’s natural in us, to snap whatever nexus remains to our animal past."
If you are interested in spoilers, of course, the entire plot of the book is available online, and, as Variety notes, the name of the fictional town where the story is set, Keelut, could be considered a spoiler. So, look up "Keelut" at your own risk.
Hold the Dark premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September, and so far has mixed reviews from critics. IndieWire's Eric Kohn gave the film a B+ and praised much of it, but said that "the approach yields a confusing and sometimes convoluted narrative." Meanwhile, Brian Tallerico, a reviewer for RogerEbert.com, gave it two-and-a-half stars and wrote, "it's a brutal slog of a film, admirable in its fearlessness in terms of dark subject matter, but the brutality doesn’t feel worth it in the end."
Still, if you like dark movies — in this case, in both senses of the word, because it's literally dark in Alaska — then it might be worth checking out. And you can leave knowing that, no, it wasn't real.