Canada | 2018 | Directed by Colin Minihan
Logline: A female couple at a lakeside forest cabin on their first wedding anniversary discovers, much to one’s horror, that their relationship is not what it seemed to be.
The psycho-thriller done well is one of the horror genres' aces, but several factors need to be in place for it to work a treat, the most important being performances and a few well-screwed twists. Minihan, on his fourth feature, fresh from SXSW, after messing around with ghosts, aliens, and zombies, now turns his hand to the homicidal single white female sub-genre and delivers his strongest feature to date.
Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) arrive by jeep at a lovely secluded forest cabin beside a large lake. They are celebrating one year as wife and wife. But whilst enjoying a cosy wine by the fire they are interrupted by the arrival of Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), from a house on the other side of the lake, who has come over to investigate, since the cabin has been dormant for ages. Sarah recognizes Jackie as Megan, an old friend from many years earlier. This immediately puts Jules offside and in a foul mood, feeling betrayed by her lover. But the name change is not even the half of it.
Soon enough Jules finds herself face-to-face with a ferocious predator, and Jackie’s father’s hunting advice that “You kill what keeps you alive” (and a great movie title) takes on a whole new meaning. Survival of the fittest as Jackie and Jules go head-to-head in one of the silliest, yet very enjoyable two-hander horror movies in recent years. Minihan is having a lot of fun with this movie, and it shows, with some great camerawork and eliciting two exciting co-lead performances, but of particular note is Hannah Emily Anderson who shines with dark ferocity.
The problem that frays the movie is Minihan can’t seem to find the ending his psycho killer tale demands, with several dénouements happening during the movie’s last twenty minutes. This upsets the well-paced rhythm the movie has been riding on for the better part of seventy minutes. It’s as if Minihan can’t decide which should reign supreme, the good or the evil? He lurches in one direction, then comes hurtling back and into the other, then swerves back again. This continues right up to the final image (which is a neat duplicate of the movie’s opener, though through a different perspective).
Any horror movie makes the demand of suspension of disbelief, depending on the sub-genre. When the movie operates in a realistic, plausible fashion, such as with What Keeps You Alive, it becomes increasingly hard to stay locked to the suspension of disbelief when the characters are exhibiting superhuman survival behaviour, or not just getting the fuck out of dodge when the going gets tough.
Still, What Keeps You Alive has enough gung-ho chutzpah and fresh charisma that will charm most audiences, and even if you do see the twists coming, it’s still a solidly thrilling and good-looking ride.