Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Betrayal, trust, scares & death enliven Colin Minihan's thriller, WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE

What if the person closest to us -- our spouse, say -- turns out to be a raging-and-very-good-at-it psychopath bent on killing us? Not a pleasant thought, and in the new horror/slasher/ psychological minder-bender, WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE, writer/director Colin Minihan brings this concept to searing and most unpleasant life. Except, of course, that it will prove creepily diverting for those of us who enjoy an unusually good scare.

Much of the movie's power comes from the fact that one of its protagonists really does care for the other and, even as she tries to stay alive, keeps attempting to piece together why her spouse, suddenly deranged as hell, keeps insisting on her demise.

Mr. Minihan (shown at right), whose addition to the zombie genre, It Stains the Sands Red, I have not seen (being awfully tired of zombies), allows enough psychological material, along with some depth to enter the picture that, for a time, we keep hoping there will be more.

There is, but it turns out to come only via the character of the betrayed wife (and the full-bodied performance from Brittany Allen, below), who is not simply physically abused to the max but also seems to have had her entire persona beaten out of her. She's barely a shell who can no longer, perhaps does not even want to, fight back.
But of course she tries.

Her spouse -- played by Hannah Emily Anderson (below), an actress beautiful of both face and figure -- whether by the performer's choice or maybe having been directed to do this, plays her role much more by rote. Initially the couple seems happy and in love/lust, but as soon as the trouble begins, the need to kill comes barreling down the track like a runaway train, complete with our antagonist taking moments to rehearse her upcoming "grief" scene or turning on a dime from nasty to nice to coax our protagonist out of hiding.

The movie is wisely and economically a two-hander -- save for the pair of husband/wife neighbors, whom you hope will survive the onslaught. As such it relies on its two leading ladies, who come through, one in OK form, the other pretty terrifically. You may be angry at our good girl for not fighting harder, but her performance is such that you will easily buy into her grief and then her diminution.

Minihan has tricks up his sleeve; some are the usual, others genuinely surprising. Pay attention to the small details; as ever with these genre movies, there is some reason for most of them.

The Canadian location is a humdinger: lake, forest, cabin in the woods, and of course a very high cliff -- with everything as real as you could ask for.

The pacing is fine, the dialog decent enough, and the payoff is oddly satisfying. Not perhaps quite what you might have wanted, but acceptable and even more important, given what we know, believable, too.

From IFC Midnight and running maybe just a tad too long at 98 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, August 24, in New York City at the IFC Center (midnight screening only!) and in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinelounge. Simultaneously, it becomes available nationwide via VOD.

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