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This week’s selection, What Keeps You Alive, is an unnerving thriller that serves up some terrifying observations about the ways in which we can never truly know another person. Try as we might, just about everyone has secrets. And that notion is delved into and explored with terrifying results in this unsettling effort from director Colin Minihan.
What Keeps You Alive sees married couple Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) escaping to Jackie’s parents’ rural estate in the countryside for a celebratory getaway. During their visit, Jules makes some disturbing discoveries in regard to Jackie’s past. When Jules approaches Jackie for answers, Jackie lashes out violently. What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse that sees Jules faced with the realization that she barely knows the woman with whom she has pledged to spend her life.
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Setting What Keeps You Alive apart from many films of its ilk is that it doesn’t waste any time letting the audience know Jackie is bad news. Relationship thrillers often take the ‘are they or aren’t they?’ approach to revealing a character’s true motives. But mere minutes into this picture’s runtime, we learn that Jackie legally changed her name prior to meeting Jules and didn’t bother to mention that during their courtship or even after their nuptials. Shortly after that, we discover that one of Jackie’s childhood friends died under mysterious circumstances. Naturally, Jackie also neglected to share that piece of information with Jules. So, the suspense doesn’t come from slowly questioning Jackie’s motives more so than the almost immediate realization that Jackie is unhinged.
That makes for a frightful setup. When one enters into a relationship, we trust our partner with our world. So, the idea of pledging your life to someone, only to find out they’ve been deceitful is legitimate nightmare fuel.
The idea that this picture is not so far removed from reality makes it even scarier. The unraveling happens far quicker here than it might in real life. But the feelings of fear that accompany such a realization are explored quite effectively throughout What Keeps You Alive.
Jackie works so well as a villain thanks to a standout performance from Hannah Emily Anderson. It’s not easy to convincingly play a violent sociopath onscreen. So many performers come across as too eager and too exaggerated in their portrayal. But that kind of depiction almost always serves to put a damper on the intensity. Anderson, however, plays Jackie in such a way as to suggest she’s putting on human emotions that don’t quite fit. She isn’t a scenery-chewing villain that stands back and cackles at the chaos she’s caused. The realization that she isn’t quite right is more nuanced than we often see in film. Seeing a performer mirror the type of subtlety one might expect from an actual violent sociopath makes her that much more menacing. And the way she can turn her disingenuous emotions on and off like a light switch is nothing short of chilling.
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Brittany Allen is also rather impressive as Jules. She brings a level of raw determination to the character that makes her easy to invest in. And she’s resourceful and down-to-earth. Jules is the yin to Jackie’s more volatile yang.
Performances aside, director Colin Minihan utilizes dizzying cinematography, a disquieting score, and a cat-and-mouse dynamic between the leads to keep the audience engaged and unsettled. With each progressive sequence, he furthers the intensity, ultimately reaching a boiling point in the bonkers third act, which culminates in an unforgettable finale.
All in, What Keeps You Alive is a chilling effort that features excellent performances, a breakneck pace, and positive, onscreen queer representation courtesy of Minihan.
If you’re game to check out What Keeps You Alive, you can stream it on AMC+ or IFC Films Unlimited, as of the publication of this post.
That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you want to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on Twitter @FunWithHorror!
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