Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing.
Starring Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson, Rez Kempton, Zack Gold, Jener Dasilva, Tessa Munro, Ryan Shoos, Christian Telesmar, and Travis Cluff.
A couple’s ailing marriage is put to the test when they are held hostage in an isolated vacation rental by an unseen Voice that commands their every move.
Held opens with Emma Barrett (Jill Awbrey, also the screenwriter) getting a ride service to an isolated luxury retreat way out in the forest (early pleasant overhead shots convey nothing but trees as far as the eyes can see) where she is set to spend the weekend with her husband Henry (Bart Johnson), who will be arriving the following morning. She appears to be a writer going through some blockage, but more pressing and noticeable is that she doesn’t exactly seem enthused about this vacation. Polite driver Joe (Rez Kempton) attempts to make conversation (respectfully backing off if a question is invasive), something Emma is also disengaged in. Nevertheless, Joe ominously warns her that the place seems dangerous while simultaneously asking for a bit extra on the tip (that’s how far removed from society that the location is), and is then on his way.
Even the lavish vacation home doesn’t seem to do much when it comes to exciting Emma, whether she is having a drink or relaxing in the built-in swimming pool. Nevertheless, to her surprise, Henry arrives earlier than expected. As the conversation between Emma and Joe already indicated, this is not a happy marriage. If anything, this vacation seems to be a last-ditch effort to salvage what remains. It’s always possible tomorrow will be a better day and a weekend of fun will begin, so they hit the hay early. That’s when things quickly become a combination of sinister, unintentionally amusing at times, but above all else thrilling even if certain aspects of these characters leave something to be desired.
The drinks render both Emma and Henry unconscious as a masked man enters the bedroom, strips Emma, and re-dresses her in an old-fashioned nightgown seemingly from a bygone era. Startled, confused, and terrified upon waking up the next morning, Emma and Henry notice both of their wardrobes have also been replaced with similar clothing, tipping us off that someone wants the ever-evolving concept of marriage to go back to something more traditional. Naturally, the couple tries to escape only to find the gate locked, keys missing, and now a heavily modified and distorted “Voice” (one of the film’s directors, Travis Cluff) over numerous speakers barking orders and ready to play a game as if he’s Jigsaw; a game of coming back together through honesty.
While the setup itself is largely preposterous (there’s a reason the Saw movies don’t actually show the traps and game being created), Held carries enough intrigue through a standard bag of surprises; infidelity, rape trauma (also a severely underexplored plot point), the nature of this marriage, and of course, the identity of the one pulling the strings. There is a reason why all of this is being done, and that reason thankfully retroactively solves some gripes to be found while watching the movie. This is not about assessing an individual marriage or dissecting marriage, but rather a sadistic exercise from someone, or rather some incel, pissed off about feminism and new norms.
Held is not a particularly scary movie (the finale really goes off the rails in a good way with action-suspense and gore, finely making that transition), but there is an unsettling sequence involving the Voice instructing Henry to make love to his wife. It comes after a complicated revelation, but not before the Voice continuously froths over the microphone about how a man should always hold the door open for a woman as if they are helpless human beings. Disobedience comes with consequences, as technological terror equips the mystery man with hidden cameras and switches to shock the married couple if they ever refuse a task. Filmmakers Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing drop the ball early on marital introspection or saying anything of note on societal evolution, but it’s relentingly nasty in diabolically gripping fashion when it comes to showing how far men will go to maintain the status quo.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com