Probably better to just leave this one dead.
I knew nothing about What Keeps You Alive when walking into the theater. Absolutely nothing.
I’d seen a trailer for the movie about a month ago, but the only thing I remembered from that footage was the fact that it’s a horror movie and it takes place in a cabin way out in the woods. That’s it.
Meaning, I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this one. Now having seen the movie, I still don’t really know what I got myself into.
What Keeps You Alive is a Canadian thriller directed and written by Colin Minihan. Minihan has also made Grave Encounters in 2011, Extraterrestrial in 2014 and It Stains the Sands Red in 2016; none of which I’ve actually seen, but all of which I’ve heard aren’t that good.
The film initially premiered in SXSW earlier this year in March, then making the rounds through various other film festivals.
It was recently picked up by IFC Midnight and rushed into theaters, which isn’t exactly a great sign. IFC Midnight has released good/great movies in the past, such as Pyewacket and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, but whenever they rush a movie like this or The Devil’s Doorway, it’s usually because they know the reception isn’t going to be great.
What Keeps You Alive focuses on a young couple in the midst of their vacation. Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) are celebrating their one-year anniversary up at Jackie’s family’s remote cabin that’s located way out in the middle of nowhere.
Everything is great when they first arrive. They unpack, say hi to their neighbors Sarah (Martha MacIsaac) and Daniel (Joey Klein), make dinner, pop open a bottle of wine and then spend a lovely evening together.
That happiness, as you would expect in a horror/thriller movie, doesn’t last.
Without going into too many details because of spoilers (even though the trailer gives away far more than I could), there are things about each other that Jackie and Jules have not yet learned.
More specifically, it’s Jackie who seems to be harboring secrets. Jules only learns about a few of them when Sarah accidentally brings them up in front of the two, which then begins to uncover a whole web of lies that has been growing and growing.
Things escalate from there. Suddenly, this isn’t a romantic weekend getaway anymore, but now a fight for all-out survival.
If you’re going to see What Keeps You Alive (which I ultimately recommend), the best way to do it is by knowing no more than that. The best thing that this movie had going for it was some of the surprises, as there were several moments where I was caught off-guard by certain twists.
I just wish the story could have actually done something intelligent or clever with those twists that are presented. The bare-bones story to What Keeps You Alive is one that could have worked. There are echoes of Funny Games, Gone Girl and even Get Out within the film, all of which could have made for a really exciting and unpredictable thriller.
Instead, once all the cards are on the table (which they are by the end of the first act), What Keeps You Alive becomes a dull and lifeless movie that’s lacking any kind of thrills.
The main reason for that, it seems, is because Colin Minihan doesn’t seem all too interested in exploring the horror element or psyche of these characters. Any time we really start to explore this landscape or the history between the couple, it’s quickly cut-off by a bunch of shots or camera movements that are meant to be artsy and stylistic.
Which, at times, can be, but they can also be super distracting and feel totally out of place from the actual story.
Furthermore, everything about What Keeps You Alive has a strong student-film kind of vibe to it. Maybe that’s not totally fair, given that this movie was likely made on a shoe-string budget, but there’s such a focus on trying to be experimental and controversial here instead of actually being competent and you know, logical, that I wouldn’t have been surprised if this movie was buried somewhere on Netflix instead of actually getting a theatrical release.
Acting wise, the movie is fine. I suspect there will be a lot of people who praise Hannah Emily Anderson for her work here, because her performance is swinging for the fences. Like, really, really swinging. There are moments when I thought that worked, but there were also moments where I didn’t think Anderson could quite pull it off as it felt like a knock-off character from other, better movies I’ve seen before.
Brittany Allen was the bigger standout of the two, in my eyes. She’s kind of bland and boring when the film first starts out, but she gradually becomes more interesting throughout the film as she begins to learn things and eventually fight back, almost in a way similar than to this year’s Revenge.
Revenge, however, was actually a smart movie with a point to make. I’m struggling to find any kind of point or message within What Keeps You Alive, except for general clichés like ‘Can you ever really know somebody?’ and nonsense like that.
Speaking of nonsense, the last twenty minutes or so of this movie almost become unwatchable. There’s a point where a character makes a certain decision, at which point I threw my hands up in the air and loudly declared “I’M DONE!” (I was the only person in the theater, so it’s fine. Please don’t do that if you’re seeing it with other people). All common sense gets thrown completely out the window during the film’s climax, as it just becomes a battle of who can out-stupid who.
Again, there are elements in What Keep You Alive that could have worked. During the beginning phases of the movie, when I still didn’t know what it was about, I was interested in certain things. I just wanted those things to actually be followed up on.
Watch the trailer for What Keeps You Alive here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the film!
'What Keeps You Alive' review: Do not resuscitate3