2018 | rated R | starring Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen | directed by Colin Minihan | 1 hr 38 mins |
Denied a wide release in the U.S., the Canadian thriller What Keeps You Alive is the kind of movie you’ll stumble on in the middle of the night on cable knowing nothing about it – and that’s the best way to watch it. That’s what happened to me. Like a good French New Wave horror film, it starts one way, is totally absorbing and then swerves into a completely different direction. It was a total delight to watch a movie I hadn’t seen beaten into my skull with pre-release advertising and not know where it would go next. It is rock-solid indie thriller work.
The base premise: Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) retreat to Jackie’s childhood cabin to celebrate their 1 year wedding anniversary. Things go south in elaborate, murderous ways that severs the relationship and sends Jules and Jackie into the woods with rifles in a cat-and-mouse Most Dangerous Game. Ok, that’s it. That’s enough.
The director here is Colin Minihan, who as half of The Vicious Brothers broke on the scene with the found footage Ghost Adventures spin Grave Encounters as well as the cabin-bound Extraterrestrial where a guy was anal probed to death. With nothing in his filmography that suggests this kind of talent with actors, visual invention and mature, simmering dread, Alive is a breakthrough film for Minihan. Both leads are great and there are some great shots and set pieces in here, like a restrained fight scene shot entirely from the floor below tracking the scuffle across the ceiling.
There is a lot of running back and forth as the characters try to trap and outsmart each other, which is going to frustrate the horror crowd that just wants people to “get the hell out of there” and end the movie in 15 minutes. That’s fine, I’d rather see the cat and mouse game. It’s also here where I’m supposed to say something about lesbian representation in film, a concern best left to Buzzfeed and the people who sit in the dark counting that stuff. That said, there is something fresh about watching two women run through this story because it flips the traditional Lifetime movie Male Creep, Female Victim role on it’s head. It’s not revolutionary, the now 10-year-old French modern classic Inside has a similar dynamic (as do most movies in the New Wave). But a well made movie is a well made movie and the slim, minimalist and very effective What Keeps You Alive is a well made movie that unspools in modest surprises. A hidden gem that deserves to be sought out.