What Keeps You Alive (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): At their retreat

“What Keeps You Alive” tries to bring some fresh air to its genre conventions, and it mostly succeeds on the whole. Although it is apparent from the very first shot that something bad is going to happen, the movie gradually draws our attention with its interesting premise while slowly accumulating suspense on the screen, and then it surprises and shocks us as further developing a nightmarish situation between its two main characters.

The story begins with a married lesbian couple arriving at a house located in some remote forest area. They are Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen), and they are going to celebrate the first anniversary of their marriage while spending their private time together at the house, which belongs to Jackie and her family. Looking around here and there inside the house, Jules cannot help but impressed by its nice wooden interior, and she certainly comes to have more expectation on her sweet time with Jackie.

However, it is gradually revealed that there is something not so right about Jackie. When Jules and Jackie are having a cozy evening in the house, someone comes to the house, and the person in question turns out to be Jackie’s old friend who incidentally lives in a house located on the other side of a nearby big lake. To Jules’ bafflement, Jackie’s old friend addresses Jackie by a different name, and Jules naturally comes to have a growing doubt on her spouse.

Jackie subsequently gives Jules an explanation on why she changed her name, but Jules cannot help but curious about who exactly her spouse is. While she frankly tells about her forest hunting experience with her father at one point, Jackie does not tell Jules much else, so Jules decides to visit the house of Jackie’s friend alone, and she tells Jules a few things about Jackie including a certain incident involved with their mutual friend.

Now I should be really careful about describing the movie for avoiding any possible spoiler, but I strongly recommend you not to read the rest of my review if you are interested in watching the movie. Because I read a review on the movie before watching it, I knew in advance what would eventually happen between Jules and Jackie, but the movie surprised me as taking a sudden plot turn more earlier than I expected, and I became more curious about what would happen next after that narrative point.

After belatedly realizing what Jackie has been hiding from her, Jules desperately tries to get out of the following urgent circumstance, and the movie accordingly becomes more intense than before. There is an unnerving scene where Jules has to spend a night alone in the forest while hiding from Jackie, who is revealed to be a very dangerous person as shown later from a chilling moment when Jules happens to find a certain object hidden behind the stuffed bear’s head in the house. There is also a grueling moment involved with emergency treatment, and then it is followed by a slow but suspenseful chase scene on the lake, which leads to another tense moment in the film.

As pushing two main characters of the film further into darker moments, director/writer Colin Minihan steadily maintains the narrative pacing of his film, and he and his cinematographer David Shuurman did a competent job of establishing a nervous sense of isolation around two main characters of the movie. The outdoor environment in the film looks merely serene at first, but then it feels more ominous as the conflict between Jackie and Jules becomes more intensified along the story, and Minihan and Shuurman later provides a disturbing moment associated with blood stains shown in a fluorescent color.

The movie depends a lot on its two lead actresses, who carry their film well together through their good acting. While Brittany Allen, who also worked as the co-executive producer/composer of the movie, is convincing in her character’s increasingly extreme circumstance, Hannah Emily Anderson is chilly and frightening as a twisted and remorseless woman, and she is particularly good when her character pretends to be sincere and regretful and then instantly shows her true nature.

Like many thriller films, the movie stumbles during its last act. While a small metaphor associated with two kinds of birds is rather blatant in my opinion, the finale feels contrived at times, though I like a little surprise around the end of the movie. Although the occasional flashback scenes showing its two main characters’ happier time mostly function well as showing more of their relationship, I cannot help but wonder whether the movie could be tauter and more efficient without these flashback scenes.

Nevertheless, “What Keeps You Alive” is still a little but engaging thriller film with some refreshing things to be appreciated. For instance, its main characters were actually a heterosexual couple in the early stages of the film’s development, and I think the substantial change on its main characters makes their situation more balanced and interesting in terms of gender relationship. Despite some weak aspects, the movie provides us enough thrill and excitement while working as a nice variation of genre conventions, and that is more than enough for recommendation in my inconsequential opinion.

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