What begins by seemingly trading in an old horror trope – a shadowy, hooded figure lurks outside as a loving couple settle for a romantic break in a secluded cabin in the woods – soon veers off into another, altogether more satisfying direction in director Colin Minihan’s nifty little psychological thriller. Jackie and Jules (Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen, respectively) are a female married couple celebrating their one-year anniversary in the aforementioned rustic property which belongs to Jackie’s family. The area holds many memories for her – some happy, one incredibly painful – but as the two kick back and relax in what is intended to be the first of many peaceful candle-lit evenings and afternoon hikes, it becomes apparent pretty soon that one half of the couple has other plans in store, which don’t exactly lean on the loving.
Heavy on mood and setting (Minihan’s widescreen vistas looks great, as do the more claustrophobic confines) the film begins as something as a slow burn only to be given a particularly nasty jolt with Jackie’s twisted idea of a sudden relationship break rears its ugly head. This shocking moment throws the duo into conflict and from there Minihan certainly isn’t scared to embrace the melodrama, underlined by the film’s showy, operatic score (composed by Allen herself). While What Keeps You Alive strains credibility on more than a couple of occasions, the cat and mouse machinations which kick in after the film’s early devastating plot twist make for a highly watchable genre exercise.
It’s a film which lives and dies on the strengths of its two central performers. While Anderson is serviceable as the demented lover – she’s a little too on the nose with her casual villainy and psychopath routine at times – Allen is something of a revelation. Dragging her mangled figure through the woods in a desperate bid to stay alive, she’s reminiscent of a bloodied and battled Cécile de France from High Tension/Switchblade Romance, further accentuated by her androgynous look and close-cropped hair. In many ways her turn in the film is at odds with the exaggerated approach of her co-star, but she helps keep things grounded for the audience as her character’s initial disbelief and devastation soon transforms into a hardened survivalist attitude.
Outlandish in a good way, What Keeps You Alive is an entertaining and bloody exercise in betrayal which piles on the pulp in such a gleeful and carefree manner that you’re willing to let the more ludicrous aspects slide and embrace the ridiculousness of it all, which even extends to the film’s final frame.
What Keeps You Alive is released in US cinemas and on VOD on August 24th 2018