What Keeps You Alive


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

What Keeps You Alive
"There's an alertness here to the dynamics of domestic abuse that gives the film depth."

Smitten as she is with the spacious and comfortable cabin in the woods which they've decided to visit for their first anniversary, Jules (Brittany Allen) has a cautious streak that most horror film fans will relate to. When a car unexpectedly draws up outside in the middle of the night, she pleads with wife Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) not to go to the door. But Jules has made a mistake. The danger she faces isn't out there in the darkness. It's right there beside her, in the woman she loves.

That there is something awry with Jackie (who has been known by at least one different name in the past, a details that comes to seem more sinister as events develop) is no spoiler, because it becomes apparent just a few minutes into the film. By then, however, Colin Minihan's economic direction has already shown us the bond between the two women - we have to mentally track back to realise that when we saw them running and laughing, fooling around and smiling together, the spontaneous laughs and smiles were all Jules', Jackie's only appearing when Jules was watching. Even then, what Jackie goes on to do is shocking. Although the underlying plot of the film is a familiar one - the stuff of soap operas, even - it feels very different here because Allen is so convincing in her disorientation, in the weight of emotion she brings to the role. Although there are flashbacks to earlier moments in the couple's relationship - necessary to introduce a couple of minor plot points - we learn all we really know about their history from watching Jules.

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Jules is badly hurt during the course of what follows, and not just emotionally. Her endurance and practicality are impressive. If she doesn't do everything else that a viewer might think of - if she hesitates to be aggressive towards this woman she has loved - it always feels true to who she is as a person, never just a product of stupidity or a plot convenience. There's an alertness here to the dynamics of domestic abuse that gives the film depth. In combination with David Schuurman's moody cinematography, which really brings the location to life, it creates a sense of realism and immediacy.

Anderson has a different sort of challenge to deal with as a character whose emotions are mostly performed, and the restraint she shows in revealing that character is admirable. As Jules attempts to understand Jackie's needs and desires, it's this restraint that really emphasises the difference between them, the unknowability of those who approach the world with different psychological equipment. We see Jules, like so many abuse victims, tempted to romanticise this, but she retains a keenness of insight and an instinct for self-preservation that keep us rooting for her.

A smart thriller with a strong sense of physicality to accompany its psychological insights, What Keeps You Alive exerts quite a grip and isn't easily shaken off.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2018
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A couple's wedding anniversary celebrations take an unexpected turn when one tries to kill the other. Far from help, can the fleeing woman figure out what's going on in time to ensure her survival?

Director: Colin Minihan

Writer: Colin Minihan

Starring: Brittany Allen, Hannah Emily Anderson

Year: 2018

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: Canada

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