Jeffrey Wright in Hold the Dark
Jeffrey Wright as Russell Core, thoughtful and grizzled wolf expert
Alaska, December 2004
Film: Hold the Dark
Release Date: September 28, 2018
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Costume Designer: Antoinette Messam
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
With another snowstorm predicted for this weekend, I tend to find strange comfort in dark, brooding winter-set tales. A recent search to replenish my cinematic catalog led me to the moody Hold the Dark, an under-promoted Netflix release starring Jeffrey Wright as a wolf expert summoned to a remote Alaskan town by a quietly distressed mother, Medora Slone (Riley Keough), who hopes he can use his skills to hunt the wolf she believes responsible for the disappearance of three local children, including her own six-year-old son.
Despite his doubts that the activity can be attributed to wolf behavior, Core investigates and finds himself enveloped in a bleak and brutal mystery appropriately dark for a grim place that gets less than six hours of sunlight each day.
What’d He Wear?
Russell Core pulls up to the Slone household, where Medora awaits, holding a much-read copy of his book, A Year Among Them. He emerges from the car, dressed almost identically as in the photo on the book’s back cover in possibly the same cap and coat, though his grayer hair prompts Medora to observe: “Oh! You’re old.”
Core dresses for the long winter in a beige hooded parka with a water-resistant outer shell likely made from polyester or a blend of treated cotton and synthetic fibers. Regarding terminology, an “anorak” typically refers to a waterproof hooded pullover jacket, while a “parka” has evolved to typically refer to a hip-length coat that’s been reinforced against the cold weather from the fur-lined hood to the down- or synthetic-stuffed insulation.
Core’s parka has a double-fastened front, consisting of a beige heavy-duty plastic two-way zipper that extends up to the neck, covered by an additional four-button fly “placket” for added snugness. The waist can be cinched with a drawstring rigged along the inside of the coat. The jacket has four pockets: a gently slanted hand pocket on each side of the chest, accented with a small brown leather triangle sewn into the top and bottom, and large flapped bellows pockets over the hips.
The style echoes the military-style parkas that had been authorized as the N-3B for USAF service in the 1950s and became a civilian favorite in the decades to follow. These earned the moniker of “snorkel parkas” as the effect made by fastening the front of the hood left only a short “snorkel” of vision for the wearer.
As the front buttons and zips fasten only to the neck, the front of the fur-lined hood has two silver-finished snaps to fasten—thus creating the “snorkel” effect—and is lined in a dark brown piled fur. The rest of the jacket is lined in a quilted beige polyester, appearing a shade warmer and lighter than the outer shell, though it may also just look cleaner as it hasn’t been regularly exposed to the elements.
A unique visual detail of Core’s parka is the printed band around the bottom, consisting of two white-bordered strips that appear to be olive tribal-like “X” shapes embroidered against a dark blue ground.
Core generally wears the same clothing throughout the duration of Hold the Dark, which seems to be set over a few days—if not weeks—leading up to Christmas. Given this context, Core wisely restricts to durable layers made from strong fabrics and all tonally coordinated, not just to ensure coordination but also to subtly communicate his grounded nature to the audience. As he is so connected to the natural world, it makes sense that Core would wear all earthy shades along the brown spectrum, suggesting soil.
Under his parka, Core wears the intermediate layer of a dark brown mixed wool cardigan sweater with patch pockets over the hips. The sweater offers full chest coverage with a ribbed “placket” that buttons up to the neck, tapering to a short ribbed standing collar that could ostensibly be folded over like a shawl collar.
Core’s everyday shirt is a taupe-brown field shirt in a lightweight yet durable cotton canvas, as popularized by outdoor outfitters like L.L. Bean. The seams are double-stitched, including over the edges and along the button-down collar, front placket, and the two narrow pocket flaps that button closed over the patch-style chest pockets. The long sleeves close with a single button through each barrel cuff.
Wearing the top few buttons of his shirt undone exposes what appears to be a off-white henley that Core wears as an undershirt… until we see him waking up in his motel room, revealing that we were just seeing the top of a full-length union suit!
After its heyday through the latter half of the 19th century, the union suit generally fell out of usage, save for rural working men or those located in extremely cold environments… an apt description for Keelut, Alaska.
Core’s cream-colored union suit appears to be made from a very thin ribbed-knit cotton, though it shows signs of pilling from frequent wear. The top half has at least six white plastic buttons up a front placket that extends from the waist to the rounded neck. As Core remains either under his bed covers or seated through the entirety of his screen-time stripped down to his union suit, we can’t see if it has the characteristic “fireman’s flap” (or “crap flap”, if you’re so crudely inclined) that would unbutton over the seat to allow Core to relieve himself without getting fully undressed.
Core rotates through a few pairs of brown pants before finally settling on the blue denim jeans he wears for the climactic sequence joining Mariam as they pursue the Slones to the hot springs. The most prominently seen trousers he wears before this sequence as the dark brown corduroy jeans that he wears during the confrontation against Cheeon, who brutally defends himself against the siege with a belt-fed M60 machine gun.
The plain-hemmed bottoms are tucked into his big fur boots—more on those later!—but his rolling through the snow reveals the distinctive ridges of medium-wale corduroy, an appropriate cloth for keeping warm in the wintry outdoors given corduroy’s fabled origins as a sporting fabric among European hunters. The closed parka generally covers the top of these trousers, but his post-gunfight drink with Mariam shows that they’re styled like jeans and held up with a brown leather belt.
Core regularly wears his knitted cap and gloves, two must-haves for extended time outdoors in the winter. (I know I always keep a backup beanie and gloves in my car!)
Given its ubiquity and longevity, the simple but sturdy knitted cap is known by a variety of names, ranging from “beanie” to “toque” as well as militarized terms like “watch cap” for its role warming the heads of service members standing watch. The hat has also been known as a “skull cap” for its naturally conforming to the shape of the wearer’s head. Due to its original construction, many still call it a “wool hat” or “woolly hat” though many modern beanies are constructed from less-itchy synthetic fibers.
Core’s brown ribbed-knit beanie coordinates with the rest of his apparel, with differently colored threads mixed into the material as well. His knitted gloves are black, a rare departure from the earthy shades dominating the rest of his gear, and may be lined for greater warmth than the standard knitted glove style provides.
“You’re gonna need better boots,” Medora Slone immediately observes, outfitting Core in her husband’s distinctive fur boots, which he pulls over his thick off-white wool socks and which Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) recognizes after his return. The boots emerge as crucial imagery through Hold the Dark, establishing both the Slones’ and Core’s lupine characteristics.
Given their importance on screen, costume designer Antoinette Messam and her team took special care to craft them as described by CAFTCAD: “The lead character’s boots were made by covering an extreme weather rubber boot with fur. They were sewn and glued to resemble boots worn by Inuit men when hunting for game in the Arctic. Eventually, the snow started to melt and the fur on the boots were getting wet and started to disintegrate. The costume team had to find creative ways to keep the continuity look of boots. It became a patchwork quilt of pieces of fur glued on top of the rubber.” These fur uppers are secured by a single rawhide lace tied around the base of each boot shaft.
The boots aren’t Medora’s only contribution to Core’s wardrobe, as she also provides him with a massive fur coat when she instructs him to: “Find it. Kill it.” The coat was likely issued not just for warmth but also to further blend Core in amongst the wolves.
Though Core only wears the fur coat for this wolf-hunting sequence, it understandably received special attention from the costume team, who—as explained by CAFTCAD—developed the coats “from scratch using traditional materials and techniques that would have been used by the Inuit community,” including caribou and ring seal fur that had been shaved and pieced together.
While Core’s beige polyester jacket qualifies as a modern parka, this large fur coat better fits its original definition as a staple of Inuit clothing. Distinguishing features of Inuit parkas range so greatly in style, cut, and usage, that the only defining feature they all seem to share is the construction from animal hide; in fact, the word “parka” means simply “animal skin” in the Aleutian Islands. Core’s hooded men’s parka with the fur side out would likely classify it as Qulittuq in Canadian Inuktitut terminology.
Core’s borrowed fur parka is essentially a long-sleeved wrap with a full hood and an uneven hem. As there appears to be no integrated closure, Core secures it around his waist with a wide tan leather belt that fastens through a large squared steel single-prong buckle.
Core reinforces his gear when he travels into the wilderness in search of the wolves, with snow goggles strapped onto his head. His two-piece heavy duty mittens have forest-green backs and golden-yellow rawhide palms, with a strap to adjust the fit over the back of each wrist.
Core wears a watch on his left wrist that goes generally unseen due to his long-sleeved layers, so we rarely ever see more than the dark leather strap that closes through a single-prong buckle. He also wears a gold wedding ring on his left hand.
Core occasionally relies on a pair of reading glasses with small round silver-toned frames.
Core is given a Ruger Mini-14 rifle by Medora, who duct-tapes over the muzzle to keep snow and other debris from entering the barrel. (Though some dramatic tension is provided from Core struggling to remove the tape from the barrel, it’s been suggested that the bullet’s 3,240 ft/sec. velocity would have rendered such potentially fatal efforts to be unnecessary as the round would have ripped through the tape without it obstructing his shot to a significant effect.)
A popular rifle among civilians, hunters, and law enforcement, the Ruger Mini-14 was introduced in 1973 as a downscaled variation on the already-obsolete M14 battle rifle, though with mechanical similarities to the older M1 Garand. The Mini-14 has been made available in a variety of configurations and chambered for different types of ammunition, though the predominant loads are the dimensionally similar 5.56x45mm NATO military round and its commercial .223 Remington counterpart.
In addition to the full-stock Mini-14 “Ranch Rifle”, Ruger’s Mini-14 variations can include blackened furniture, a folding stock, and a “GB”-designated “government barrel” that incorporates a bayonet lug. The Slone family’s Mini-14 taken by Core has a blackened side-folding stock (which he carries extended), a black pistol grip, a stainless non-GB barrel, and a thirty-round magazine.
During the police gunfight with Cheeon, Core debates whether or not he should leave his relatively safe position to assist a wounded rookie officer. His desire to help getting the best of him, he takes a Remington Model 870 Police Magnum pump-action shotgun from a downed policeman and fires at Cheeon, creating just enough of a surprise distraction that he’s able to pull the wounded officer out of harm’s way.
Remington has produced more than 11 million Model 870 shotguns since the design’s introduction in 1950. Like the Mini-14, it has been offered in nearly every configuration imaginable, with varying barrel lengths, stock and grip options, wooden and synthetic furniture, and shells, though 12-gauge remains the most popular. Also like the Mini-14, the Model 870 has proven popular with civilians, hunters, and law enforcement, as well as having been authorized for military usage around the world.
Given the context of the scene, Core’s commandeered Model 870 is a classic Police Magnum variant with blued finish, hardwood stock and slide, and 12-gauge shells.
In the final act, Core accompanies Detective Marium by air to the Alaskan hot springs as the hunt for Vernon Slone intensifies. Marium’s bolt-action rifle, rigged with a scope, has been identified on IMFDB as a Tikka T3 which eventually ends up in Core’s hands.
Sako introduced the T3 rifle in 2003 as a product of its Finnish-made Tikka brand. Barrels range from 16 to 24 inches long, with variations in fixed and folding stocks, wooden or synthetic finish, and a range of calibers from small rounds like .204 Ruger and .223 Remington up to big-game ammunition like .338 Winchester Magnum and 9x3x62mm.
Marium’s Tikka T3 has a black synthetic stock and a long blued barrel that appears to be compensated with an integrated muzzle brake.
What to Imbibe
Following the massacre, Core joins Detective Marium (James Badge Dale) and his wife for a home-cooked spaghetti dinner, accompanied by red wine with a fictional “Coteaux d’Etienne” label. As the men clean the dishes and meditate on the increasing violence of the situation, Marium pours both he and Core several much-needed drams of The Glenlivet 21 Year Old single malt Scotch whisky.
While my experience with The Glenlivet has yet to include any of its offerings aged more than 18 years, I can provide some additional context from the official website:
Meticulously crafted over its 21 years, this whisky is put through a combination of hand-selected American oak and ex-sherry casks, which impart the distinctive flavor of dried fruits and a bold richness, vibrant intensity and long finish.
Each cask is hand-selected and individually nosed and approved, and every batch has its own special nuances, making it a rare and unique liquid indeed. Aromas are beautifully melted, resonant with dried fruit from the sherry cask, but with spicy hints of cinnamon and ginger.
Colored enticingly of rich amber, with shimmering shades of copper, the finish of this prestigious expression is long and warm.
How to Get the Look
Jeffrey Wright models a functional and modernized alternative to the Jeremiah Johnson aesthetic for wintry layering in the snow, relying on tonally coordinated, tried-and-true military-informed pieces like his well-traveled knitted cap and insulated parka, supplemented with fur boots and a massive fur coat when he needs additional warmth… or to blend in with the wolves.
- Beige waterproof polyester “snorkel” parka with fur-trimmed/lined hood (with two-snap front closure), four-button/zip-fastened front, slanted chest pockets, large flapped bellows hip pockets, and tribal-style bottom band
- Dark brown mixed wool short shawl-collar cardigan sweater with patch hip pockets
- Taupe-brown cotton canvas field shirt with button-down collar, front placket, two flapped chest pockets (with button-down flaps), and button cuffs
- Dark brown corduroy cotton jeans with belt loops, five-pocket layout, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather belt
- Inuit-style fur-patchworked rubber boots
- Ivory wool socks
- Cream-colored thin ribbed-knit cotton union suit
- Brown ribbed-knit “beanie” cap
- Black knitted gloves
- Gold wedding ring
- Wristwatch on dark leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie… and then read Elena Nicolaou’s explanation of the ending for Refinery29.
The movie was based on William Giraldi’s novel, which sounds like it’s also worth reading!
The natural order doesn’t warrant revenge.