IFC Midnight has released a new movie this year, What Keeps You Alive, which I would define as a dark survival thriller.
In this rated R Canadian film, we follow a gay couple (Jackie and Jules) that goes to a cabin in the woods for some relaxation. We see them interacting and getting all sexy, when a car comes and parks outside their cabin: a hooded figure gets out of the vehicle and knocks on the door. Don’t worry, though, this is no slasher flick nor a rip-off of Hush and The Strangers. The hooded figure is Sarah, Jackie’s childhood friend who’s got a villa nearby. Jules can breathe a sigh of relief… in fact, the horror comes from within the house, not from the outside.
I purposely kept the plot description to a minimum, because I think What Keeps You Alive is the type of movie you should go into blind, not knowing much about.
This is a rather solid movie, that I would recommend to anybody who’s down for great acting, interesting character study, unpredictable survival thriller with a couple of twists and a good dose of violence and blood.
Due to the great locations and the sombre colour scheme, What Keeps You Alive sacks you into the story very quickly: some outstanding camera-work (executed through subtle steady cam a la The Shining and through, sometimes, the characters’ POV a la Evil Dead) makes for intense scenes even where the action is not particularly exciting per se. Also, the presence of long, single takes where we see the whole frame with Jackie and Jules doing their things helps building suspense and gives away hints of what’s going to happen next.
Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, It Stains the Sands Red) proves ones again to be a great visual storyteller and an interesting filmmaker.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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He also wrote the script for What Keeps You Alive, a script that’s rather mesmerising in regards to the characters. Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) are nearly perfect in their roles: they have character development, you get their motivations, you feel for or get angry at them for all the right reasons. Other than Toni Collette in Hereditary and the two girls in Incident in a Ghostland, in my opinion Jackie gives the best female performance in a horror movie in 2018. I’d suggest you watch this flick purely to see how amazing she is in quite a brave and controversial role.
Yet, speaking of characters, this movie shows how to make strong and compelling female characters, something that horror flicks tried to do constantly in the last few years with mostly poor outcomes. Both Jackie and Jules, for the most part, make reasonable decisions, are smart and strong, never come off as pathetic and annoying.
There’s really something to be scared of in What Keeps You Alive
What Keeps You Alive is a very well-directed and beautifully acted film, which builds suspense from the get-go and never lets you go. Due to the great effort put into characters and visuals, this film doesn’t need exposition to carry the plot along, which is extremely refreshing in horror flicks nowadays, However, it’s not a movie free of flaws.
For example, some scenes take too long to come to a conclusion, which makes them a bit boring as opposed to the intent, which was to make them intense and highly suspenseful. The fact that the music is generic and dull also doesn’t help to intensify certain sequences.
My two biggest issues, though, concern other aspects of What Keeps You Alive. The first one is one of my biggest pet-peeves in horror, the dream sequences: this movie marks the beginning of the first act with one of the lamest, most obnoxious dream sequences you can think of. Now, dream sequences can still be impactful – although they’ve been used up to death – when inserted in a motion picture about night terrors, or where nightmares play a big role, or if the style is very surreal and non-linear. Other than that, they’re not just unwarranted, but also distracting and cheap.
As though the dream sequence wasn’t bad enough, it introduces the viewer to a rather disappointing ending. The last 30 minutes of What Keeps You Alive fall into the tropes of an average slasher flick, which really is an off way to conclude a movie that, up until then, was completely different. In other words, this film drops the ball when it comes to the writing over the course of the last 30 minutes, where the plot keeps going only because the characters make really dumb choices. In all fairness, however, the very ending is both rather gruesome and quite shocking, saving it from being worthless.
In conclusion, with What Keeps You Alive Colin Minihan proves himself to be an interesting indie horror filmmaker: he tried his hands on different sub-genres, always coming up with intriguing concepts. This motion picture in particular is the pinnacle of his work, so far, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what the guy does next. In the meantime, if you’re into indie and a bit different horror flicks, you should definitely give this movie a watch.
What Keeps You Alive 7/10