Runtime: 98 Minutes
Director: Colin Minihan
Writer: Colin Minihan
Stars: Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen
Oh, “What Keeps You Alive” is Hitchcockian, alright–in how one of the characters isn’t the way they seem at the beginning; in how a gasp-worthy plot twist comes right outta nowhere at the film’s midpoint which will surely elicit gasps. Unfortunately, it starts to make less sense the longer it goes on. Colin Minihan’s thriller presents a horrific nightmare about a new relationship. It presents the “never really knowing your own spouse” trope with fresh packaging which mostly succeeds in delivering a high-octane thrill ride.
The romantic one-year anniversary of a couple soon unravels when a childhood friend emerges and reveals a secret from the past. A secret which, upends the romantic mood the film opens up with and leads to a series of events which morph this placid escape into a high-octane thriller of the Hitchcockian variety. The couple here is Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and her wife Julie (Brittany Allen). Now, before you cast this off as some sleazy trash starring two hot horny lesbian babes with guns and ammunition… allow me to burst your #filmbrodude bubble and tell you, straight-up that this ain’t it.
As a matter of fact, Anderson and Allen have such lovely chemistry as wives–they both share a balance that makes it clear why these two ended up together in the first place. They get along, they communicate, they look like normal women you’d see every day–the black and white flashbacks Minihan deploys at times makes the love these two shares look so real… until Jackie’s childhood friend shows up one night–interrupting a moment of tender intimacy–and calls Jackie “Megan”. Oh shit.
Colin Minihan’s thriller presents a horrific nightmare about a new relationship. It presents the “never really knowing your own spouse” trope with fresh packaging which mostly succeeds in delivering a high-octane thrill ride.
What happens next is an exercise in thrills and chills. It never wavers with its effectively eerie tone–it draws most of its brilliant suspense from moments so silent they’re unnerving. We gradually get a sense that there is more to Jackie than her calm and collected lover Julie sees–although nothing can prepare you for the completely unexpected THING that happens and the end of the first act. I’ve read many reviews that tell you what the THING is… and I will not be doing that here. I saw the film completely fresh, and I feel as though this is the best way to go in.
There is a distinct and fresh dynamic between Jackie and Julie–one has the hunting experience of a cold and calculated killer, the other has single-mindedness and willpower (I will not say who has which). The choice to have this be a tale of a lesbian couple also proves to be of distinct purpose. It plays on your expectations and undercuts them at every turn. If this were a heterosexual couple; the temptation to cast the man as a woman-hating monster/the woman as a man-hating vixen would’ve perhaps been too strong to overcome (as it normally is). Over here, both women are on an equal playing field, and there is nothing off-limits.
Allen is convincing as Julie; a woman whose whole world has just changed in what seems to be a snap of a finger. I just wish that, again, her character was written better.
What’s tragic here is that when it does eventually turn into a high-octane thriller, the story only moves forward when both the predator and the prey make stupendously dumb decisions. These decisions revolve around: not leaving and calling authorities when one has the chance to do so; surrendering to a full night’s sleep wherein literally anything can happen (and when nothing does happen, tension is substituted by derision); not thinking to run off and come back with law enforcement to present an orgy of evidence to them; attempting to ask for someone else’s help–and, in the process, risking that person’s life–while needlessly visible to the killer… among other face-palming idiotic things.
What you end up having are Jackie and Julie stupidly running around–making one dumb decision after another in a film which would’ve been much better had the motivations and verisimilitude of the characters been given more attention.
With all that being said; the plot holes don’t entirely detract from the palpable menace constructed here. Allen is convincing as Julie; a woman whose whole world has just changed in what seems to be a snap of a finger. I just wish that, again, her character was written better; what’s supposed to be empathy for her instead turns into derision.
The carefully constructed emotional catastrophe that writer/director Colin Minihan presents gets thrown right out the window when Julie doesn’t do much to help herself. She’s borderline passive in how she’s mostly just sobbing and shooting herself in the foot for no reason we can infer. At one point I was even rooting for the killer, which should never be the case in a movie like this.