The Holding

The Holding

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"Everyone has secrets," declares young Amy (Maisie Lloyd). The secret of her 16-year-old sister Hannah (Skye Lourie) is that she was being sexually abused by her father Dean before his unannounced departure from the family home. The secret of their mother Cassie (Kierston Wareing) is that, one night eight months ago, she killed and buried Dean, aided by old farmhand Cooper (David Bradley). And Amy's secret: she witnessed this violent event from her bedroom window.

And so the three Naylor women live in tight-lipped, guilt-tinged dysfunction, while Cassie struggles daily to keep her family together and their small cattle farm afloat. As neighbour Karsten (Terry Stone) and his son Noah (Jake Curran) beleaguer Cassie with offers to take over the debt-ridden Naylor holding, along comes a stranger named Aden (Vincent Regan), claiming to be an old friend of Dean's, insinuating himself into Cassie's farm and family life, and harbouring a few secrets of his own.

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Susan Jacobson's feature debut is a thriller whose sparse, if beautifully shot, rural settings become the stage for a clash of genders. If the three women in the Naylor holding contrast sharply with the two men from next door who keep making unwelcome attempts to encroach (whether by marriage, threat or force), then new arrival Dean is a conspicuously masculine presence in this otherwise all-female home, taking to his new role (alpha cock in neglected henhouse) with alarming relish.

Amy thinks of Dean as an 'angel' sent by God, whether to protect or to avenge, and indeed he is one of those galvanising figures, familiar from films like Teorema and Visitor Q, who come to reflect, amplify and ignite the suppressed feelings of those around them. His name may be an anagram of the dead husband, and he may eventually come to mirror some of Dean's more abusive behaviour, but Aden is equally a double for Cassie in his willingness to do anything – even commit murder – in the perceived interests of the family unit.

Deeply (and literally) scarred by a legacy of errant patriarchy, Dean is a damaged parody of masculinity, a would-be father and husband whose apparent courtesy and compliance soon give way to the forceful expression of his own wayward needs. Regan plays him with such subdued, brooding menace that the eventual explosion of violence, though inevitable, still manages to surprise in its ferocity.

From there on in, once all the carefully built tensions have been released and the secrets are out, The Holding risks going the way of other 'interloper' films (Cape Fear, Fatal Attraction, Poison Ivy, Single White Female, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Unlawful Entry, The Temp, Coffin Rock, etc.), descending into predictable bunny-boiling (or bull-slaughtering) excess in its third act – but it is carried out with real conviction by its cast, while the focus here on sisters (and their mother) learning to do it for themselves is something new in a subgenre that more typically demonises women. Jacobson is definitely a new British talent to watch.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2011
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The Holding packshot
An enigmatic stranger may not be as much of a godsend as he first appears to a lonely mum and her daughters.
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Director: Susan Jacobson

Writer: James Dormer

Starring: Kierston Wareing, Vincent Regan, Skye Lourie, Maisie Lloyd, David Bradley, Terry Stone, Jake Curran, Jarrod Cooke, Mark Cooper Harris

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

Frightfest 2011

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