What Keeps You Alive review Brittany Allen Hannah Emily AndersonYear: 2018
Director(s): Colin Minihan
Writer(s): Colin Minihan
Region of Origin: Canada
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 98 mins

Synopsis: Majestic mountains, a still lake and venomous betrayals engulf a female married couple attempting to celebrate their one-year anniversary. (Source)

The idea that we can never truly know the ones we love is common amongst thrillers. And yet, director Colin Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive manages to add depth and complexity to this unsaid truth. As he did with the outstanding It Stains the Sands Red, Minihan subverts genre for a near-unclassifiable experience. Again bringing themes to their most bare and primal, Minihan finds the horror in giving ourselves fully to someone. What happens when our trust is misplaced, and our foundations are suddenly stripped away? To Minihan’s credit, this isn’t an ordinary film about a psychopath and their unwitting prey, but an emotional cat-and-mouse chase that exists on a lot of different levels. With incredible performances from stars Brittany Allen and Hannah Anderson in tow, Minihan’s film is smart and sly, taking us on a wild ride that hits emotional and visceral heights.

Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) are celebrating their first-year anniversary at a secluded cabin in the woods. What should be a relaxing getaway, however, yields sinister results after a horrific act leaves Jules left for dead. Inexplicably, though, Jules survives only to find herself in the middle of an unrelenting nightmare. As Jules and Jackie attempt to survive the weekend, a hunt ensues, but probably not the type that either women are expecting.

Minihan’s film is satisfying because of how it toys with expectations and manages to get deep into his characters’ psyches. Though there is a physical chase and a few grisly moments of violence, the most harrowing aspect of the film is how these two women battle each other on a psychological level. “This isn’t nurture, it’s nature”, says one of them, and as each woman fights to obtain their goals, each are given an equal chance at the table. Most people (myself included) may root for Jules, but we come to understand the shocking urges behind Jackie’s motives, and the results are as heartbreaking as they are terrifying. Minihan has crafted a genuinely fascinating psychopath, making her second guess each next move as the audience and Jules rushes to keep up. Stretching his elegantly minimal survival premise to its limits, Minihan’s film never outstays its welcome and constantly evolves just when we think we’ve got it figured out.

What Keeps You Alive review Brittany AllenWith character work at the film’s center, Allen and Anderson shine as two complex women at opposite ends of the spectrum. Allen’s Jules is the film’s moral compass and bright spot. She’s the optimist even amidst a losing situation, and Allen delivers a fighter both physically and mentally. There’s a lot going on beyond what’s actually said, and to Allen’s credit, she conveys all of this nuance without having to say it. Anderson’s Jackie, on the other end, is more enigmatic, but also unrelenting. Like Allen, Anderson conveys Jackie’s sense of survival in a way we haven’t really seen before. This is a woman who lives by a very strict code, and Anderson carries this out with conviction. Together, both women have a unique chemistry, giving the film its weight.

What Keeps You Alive maims us fairly early and then watches us squirm as it twists the knife slowly. It’s a breath of fresh air in that it takes generally stock ideas and really explores them in a way that has meaning. On top of that, Minihan’s genre deconstruction is gleefully perverse, making time for a few moments of black humor even as things grow progressively more desperate. With its portrait of what it’s like to marry a psychopath, Miniham twists survival horror, cabin shocks and relationship woes into an original experience. At the bottom of it all, the film’s musings on romance and self-destruction stick with us, evoking the terror of falling in love only to find out that you’ve given yourself over to a monster. That idea alone is scarier than most anything the genre has to offer.