Lots of great movies (and some bad ones) play at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and yours truly doesn’t have time to see all of them! What Keeps You Alive was a movie I was told to check out back in March, but, I DIDN’T BECAUSE I AM STUPID. With the year coming to a close, I figured I might as well check out the movie that others have been praising for the past nine months and, while it won’t go down as one of my favorite films of the year, I was given a solid thriller that, while derivative at times, is an effective and disturbing thriller with solid performances and a surprising narrative.
To celebrate their first anniversary, a couple heads to a remote cabin in the woods to hunt, fish, and kiss, all the things we look forward to doing in cabins! When a figure from Jackie’s (Hannah Emily Anderson) past visits the cabin, Jules (Brittany Allen) is perplexed by the details of Jackie’s life that she’s kept from her wife. Then something, uh, well, “happens,” which shatters both of their perspectives on their relationship and a bunch of creepy stuff happens.
Guys, that might be a vague description, BUT I DON’T WANT TO RUIN ANY SURPRISES. Luckily, there’s a “twist” about 30 minutes in so you get to the meat of it pretty quickly. And, ya know what? The narrative actually went some directions that I wasn’t anticipating! I know what you’re saying, “Wolfman, you are a genius, how could anyone pull one over on your?” Well, ask Colin Minihan, writer/director of the film, as his story kept me guessing up until the end.
The film fits in the nebulous home invasion/backwoods slasher subgenre, though it offers a lot more than a game of cat and mouse. The realism of the anxiety and terror reminds me of Haneke’s Funny Games, as there’s nothing fulfilling about the violence, unlike other slashers. Both films offer audiences exhausting experiences which are far from fun, though also honor more traditional horror movie tropes. Anderson and Allen’s chemistry help keep the audience invested in the twisted narrative’s outcome, while Minihan’s cinematography makes even familiar scenery feel fresh, whose mise-en-scène is as compelling as its leads performers.
Despite the film’s many strengths, it still boils down to being a home invasion/backwoods slasher film, which isn’t my cup of tea. There are still characters traveling from Point A to Point B and sometimes characters die, but the framework for that pursuit feels more effective than many other similar films. Fans of the subgenre are sure to enjoy the effective execution of well-worn tropes and unexpected narrative twists.
Wolfman Moon Scale