Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) mark their one-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Jackie’s family house in the woods. Hoping for a romantic getaway, their break is disturbed by Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), a childhood friend of Jackie’s that lives at the other side of the lake. Sarah’s visit raises questions about Jackie and Jules realises that she may not know her wife as well as she thought she did. As Jules starts to dig deeper, secrets are uncovered that threaten to ruin their marriage for good.
The latest film from writer/director Colin Minihan, What Keeps You Alive is an exploration of the horror of betrayal between a married couple. The film gets off to a fairly slow and subtle start as we see Jules and Jackie looking loved up as they arrive at the house. Sarah’s visit changes all that, especially when she calls Jackie by a name that is completely unfamiliar to Jules. Jackie attempts to explain it away to reassure Jules but the seed of doubt has already been planted in her mind by that point.
As the story starts to really unravel, the intensity heightens but also sadly so does the silliness. It’s actually quite hard to talk about in great detail without giving away something that the entire plot hinges on, but what I can say is that it really, really stretches believability and that’s a real shame. The story here could have been told in a less over-the-top way, reigning in the crazier moments and focussing on the drama between Jules and Jackie. Instead it locks itself into a cycle of scenes that start to feel repetitive and had me thinking, ‘why on earth would you do that?’
The performances of Brittany Allen and Hannah Emily Anderson are for the most part strong. Allen leans a little too hard into the despair of her character while Anderson too easily slips into menacing, even when it’s not really needed. Both characters are guilty of narrating out what they’re doing a little too much too, when all we really needed was silence to observe their actions. The way Jules and Jackie transform by the end make them barely recognisable from the two people we met at the start, and I found that made it hard to really care about either of them.
There is a good idea in What Keeps You Alive but it gets lost under unnecessarily over-dramatic moments that made me groan and had the audience at FrightFest unintentionally laughing. It’s a very hard balance to get right when you mix realistic drama with some of the more outlandish tropes of the horror genre, and I didn’t feel Minihan got that balance right. I did however find it refreshing to have a same-sex lead couple in a horror movie, where the characters are treated as actual people rather than titillation. Ultimately though I found the film a little frustrating and too drawn out.
Cast: Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen, Martha MacIsaac Director: Colin Minihan Writer: Colin Minihan Certificate: TBC Duration: 98 mins Released by: Digital Interference Productions