What Keeps You Alive, 2018.
Directed by Colin Minihan.
Starring Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen, Martha MacIsaac and Joey Klein.
Majestic mountains, a still lake and venomous betrayals engulf a female married couple attempting to celebrate their one-year anniversary.
Colin Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive is a beastly hybrid of survivalist and relationship thrills, savage like a wolf hungry for innocence. As characters equate themselves to crows, bald eagles, and mighty black bears, Minihan kindles a fire underfoot. One minute we’re warmed by anniversary bliss, the next a true crime scenario unfolds without prompt or warning. Performances are key – two leads pitted against one another at a cricket’s chirp – but what’s more impressive is the psycho-killer tension so close to snapping like a twig without ever doing so. It’s survival of the fittest with a premium on dread, as tension equates to fangs clamping down on your jugular with piercing pressure.
Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) flee to the latter’s family Timber Bay forest abode for *what should be* a weekend getaway. Jules is enamored by the deluxe cabin’s charm, but notices Jackie keeps losing herself in these long-gaze bouts of rumination. The two hike through nature and sip wine by a roaring fireplace, but Jules feels something is off. A knock at the door brings neighbor Sarah (Martha MacIsaac) for a visit, who refers to Jackie as “Meghan.” Then Jules finds out about a long-lost friend of Jackie’s who passed during childhood named Jenny. Uneasiness bubbles until the weekend comes to a crashing halt when Jackie pushes her wife off a cliff. Jules survives, but her fight is long from over. And for what reason? To be determined later.
Brittany Allen’s performance is that of a doe in crosshairs. She’s the adoring partner who sees nothing coming, completely smitten by wedded bells until the moment she’s hurdling downward towards a rocky landing. Allen must piece herself back together – dislocations and gushing wounds – hobbling and hiding from her huntress pursuer. Jules is weaker but wants to live, and that’s portrayed so fervently whilst mixing in the confusion of trying rationally to cope with her farce of a lifestyle. Moments of panic, moments of immense pain – emotional and physical – that are felt with every wince, wide-eyed look of horror or counterattack while bloodied, battered, and broken. A choice between saving herself or preventing such an attrocity from happening to anyone else.
Hannah Emily Anderson, on the other hand, makes her mark as a “Dexter” type with buck hunter expertise (among other “eraser” talents). As her character flips the switch from guitar-playing seductress (singing about inner demons escaping) to calculated, done-this-before murderer, my is Jackie’s transformation alarming. Militant in tactical observations, screaming about why you “blot” bloodstains and not “scrub” them. Anderson is sensational as an apex predator, devilish chameleon, and naughty black widow with a criminal’s secret. A stare that’ll chill your core ice-cold. A performance that’s stitched from the most unsettling aspects of any Making A Murderer podcast you’ve ever listened to. Emotionless, robotic, extreme dedication to pursuing snuffing life as a bloodsport. When the wolf gets loose, all bets are off.
Cinematographer David Schuurman collaborates with Minihan to paint a picture of majestic wooded isolation and stony mountain ranges that provide no escape. Schuurman’s camera is always pacing – a one-take glide as Jules explores creeky hallways in opening minutes, constant panning versus static dullness – which toys with anxiety. We experience Jules’ desperation. Cuts between women are as frantic as cries for help, spacially suggesting danger is closer than actual placement. What Keeps You Alive is wonderfully shot from Jules standing rife-ready between two stereo speakers to Jackie’s ultraviolet cleanup sequence complete with glowing bathtub and axe. Momentary breaks from blood and guts by way of artistic expression under purple luminescent hues – bigger, grander creativity versus typical genre sludge.
For clarity, my What Keeps You Alive review will remain briefer than most because cat-and-mouse dynamics are best experienced without spoilage. My one gripe is this – Jules falls victim to a few motivational cues beneficial to drama over “rationale.” That said, Colin Minihan’s command of most other sequences distracts from audience guffaws about “Well why didn’t she…” this or that. Brittany Allen and Hannah Emily Anderson bottle situational chaos in their last-one-standing fight, with Allen pulling double duty by notching a “Music by” credit (another highlight, mind you). It’s mean, it’s thrilling, and it’s every bit the same-sex powder keg that evokes tension only possible between two female characters. Minihan puts ample thought into a simple concept, coming up with one punch-a-minute struggle that hits the ground running.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).