August 24, 2018 What Keeps You Alive (Movie Review)
Only kill what is necessary to keep you alive says the eco-conscious hunter. A metaphorical battle for survival between the crow and the bald eagle, the newest Canadian Thriller from IFC Midnight, What Keeps You Alive, arrives to cinemas and VOD on Friday, August 24, 2018.
Married couple Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson: Jigsaw 2017, The Purge series) and Julie (Brittany Allen: It Stains the Sands Red 2016, Jigsaw 2017) have headed out to a family-owned cabin in the woods to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary. Here, beside a picturesque lake, the ladies begin to settle into their surroundings, sipping some wine beside the fireplace and growing ever amorous. That is when they spot headlights illuminating the cabin’s walls, and the tension begins to envelope them into an ominous fog.
A surprise visit from Sarah (Martha MacIsaac: Superbad 2007, The Last House on the Left 2009) – who lives across the lake with her husband Daniel (Joey Klein: The Vow 2012, Painless 2017) – delivers an unhealthy heaping of this tension, and so it begins. Almost instantly, a deranged twist falls over this entire tale and the beauty of the natural environment shifts to an all-out struggle for survival in this postcard-perfect forest. In a battle of survival between a crafty crow and a sadistic eagle, who will surpass their competitor to reign supreme in these woods?
Clocking in at 99 minutes in-length, What Keeps You Alive was written and directed by the superbly-talented Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters 2011, It Stains the Sands Red 2016). While the film is billed as a Thriller, it contains a myriad of elements – from psychologically-steeped horrors to Slasher influences, to survivalist thrills – coalescing to create something that could easily be deemed a splendid addition to the Horror-Thriller genre. The boogeyman here is a woman with some serious, deep-seated psychological issues, and boy, does she know how to wield a hunting knife!
Considering that What Keeps You Alive boasts a cast of only five individuals – which includes Charlotte Lindsay Marron (Between series) as young Jackie – this is a film that does a lot with very little. Filmed in the Muskoka Region of Ontario, Canada, the nature – much in thanks to the lush cinematography of David Schuurman (Sketchboogey short 2018, I’d Rather Be in Bed short 2018) – is stunning and the perfect foil to the gruesomeness of this disturbing tale. Additionally, What Keeps You Alive has a wonderfully diverse soundtrack, one that brilliantly utilizes the eclectic likes of Australia’s favorite sons Silverchair, genius Composer Beethoven, and Canadian Alt-Folksters Munroe, all in a cohesive synchronicity that boosts the on-screen action.
The cast is small, yes, but they do a magnificent job in their roles. Obviously, the bulk of the production rests upon the laurels of Anderson and Allen, who both do commendable work. Anderson is truly chilling in her role of calm and calculated psychopath Jackie. The ultimate black widow, Anderson is also the perfect bird of prey: a beautifully appealing lover on the outside, a dark, cunning and horribly wretched caricature of evil on the inside. She shows absolutely no sense of shame when she exclaims with spine-tingling pride that it is nature, not nurture, that made her this way.
Allen, on the converse, is the perfectly conflicted lover Julie: the woman who believes in love, who wants to find a reason behind the insanity. Allen herself flawlessly embodies this struggle: a woman who is not a natural born killer, but who is pushed to the edge of desperation and who will have to harness whatever means is necessary to keep herself alive. The ending’s final twist comes thanks to the cunning and sophistication of her character, the spirited and lively crow who has nothing left to lose.
What Keeps You Alive is minimalism at its finest, and, as with all great films, it blends genres fluidly and ultimately defies any simple categorizations. There is an excellent, artistic eye for detail here that includes a creative use of black lights, one truly ironic “Believe in Love” t-shirt, a splendid film soundtrack, and some gorgeously lush scenery. Of course, none of this means anything without a talented cast and a truly intriguing script, of which What Keeps You Alive has it all. Disturbingly haunting yet aesthetically pleasing, this is one Thriller that ups the ante to a whole new level. Also, you can’t argue with that killer use of Silverchair’s “Anthem for the Year 2000!” For these reasons, CrypticRock give What Keeps You Alive 4.5 of 5 stars.