It takes a lifetime for some people to surrender themselves to another person. To trust completely, without reservation, is often scarier than any horror film.
That kind of vulnerability is exploited in chilling fashion in Colin Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive. The film, which follows newly married couple Jackie & Jules, puts the two women at Jackie’s (Hannah Emily Enderson) parent’s cabin, a remote location, situated across the lake from Jackie’s childhood friend. The cabin, which appears to be a symbol of the last vestige of Jackie’s life before they met, begins to mean much more as Jules is exposed to lies that could tear a rift in their new and still fragile union.
On the surface this feels like a much different movie than we would normally be discussing here on this site. That is of course, until Jackie pushes Jules off the side of a cliff and the audience learns that Jackie’s secrets extend far deeper than just her emotional reservations.
Minihan, responsible for both Grave Encounters and 2016’s subgenre redefining offering It Stains the Sands Red has shed any possible trepidation delivering his most mature effort to date.
Once Jules emerges, alive, but wounded from the bottom of the cliff Jackie sheds all but her most reptilian, murderous superego and the film begins its supercharged brutal journey across the wilderness outside the cabin. This is not your typical cat and mouse and the emotional gravitas centers the violence in a way that every hit every chop and every slice carries the full weight of the betrayal of the sanctity of the love the couple shared that proved to be lie. There is soul-searing victimization here that doesn’t just serve as a thematic undercurrent, but literally works its way under the viewer’s emotional security blanket by the film’s end credits.
Brittany Allen is almost unrecognizable here and her physical transformation is testament to the character she creates. While her turn as one of the most Jungian heroines in horror to date in It Stains the Sands Red might have redefined the genre’s idea of the post-apocalyptic “final Girl”, Allen’s characterization of the scorned lover is so grounded and rooted in the audience’s own pain that it surpasses a serviceable portrayal and becomes so effortless that there is simply no need to suspend disbelief.
We were first introduced to Hannah Emily Anderson in USA Networks The Purge tv event. Here she is totally uncaged and nothing short of fantastic as a female serial killer with no idea of defeat or karma. Anderson plays the killer with a heavy narcissism and a ferocity that rarely gets applied to the now common horror stereotype.
If What Keeps You Alive has a noticeable fault it is that the heady emotional weight of the stakes in the film start to crush the film’s momentum as we hit the third act. There is still plenty to offer toward’s the film’s climax though and although it speaks to its own inevitablilty, is still satisfying. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.