From 2018, last night’s movie. I was going to preface my review with a warning of mild spoilers, until I watched this trailer, which spoils no more than I had planned to:
Young married couple, Jackie and Jules, celebrate their 1st anniversary secluded at Jackie’s childhood home, situated by a large lake in the Canadian wilderness. It soon becomes clear that Jackie intends to murder Jules and make it look like an accident, not just for the insurance payoff, but because Jackie’s a psychopath…and it’s not the first time she’s done this, Jules learns in horror.
A deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues as Jules fights for her very survival and escape her cold-blooded and calculating spouse.
The film’s premise was set up efficiently. The primary location of the large lakeside cabin and its surrounding woodlands was established masterfully with some terrific cinematography and editing. The cast was sharp and for the most part endearing, which helped add to the intrigue when the situation turned violent and dark.
Unfortunately, What Keeps You Alive devolved into one of those Thrillers where the main character, the one you’re meant to sympathize with, begins behaving in ways that defy common sense. This cinematic pet peeve of mine is one that tends to inspire viewers to begin talking out loud at the characters onscreen when not groaning outright at the movie’s Character Behaving Stupidly gimmick.
This is a creaky device, often found in Horror flicks and Thrillers, utilized by filmmakers hoping to stretch out the plot in ludicrous ways just to keep the movie from ending around the fifty- or sixty-minute mark.
I understand why filmmakers do it, but all this narrative padding did was cause my wife and I to detach from the story and start commenting on the film with one another. How are viewers supposed to remain invested in a movie character’s survival when the character themselves don’t behave as if they are? When their decisions become infuriatingly counterintuitive and reckless?
At one point, Jules overpowers the murderous Jackie and has ample time to escape to safety in their car, which she does…only to turn the car around a few miles later and go back, suddenly angry enough to put herself in jeopardy all over again by confronting her insane spouse, who’s already proven capable of violent murder. Who’s also in possession of a hunting rifle she’s already demonstrated to be a crack shot with.
It’s not that I didn’t want to see Jules start fighting back and turn the tables on her attacker. I just hated that the movie fell back onto a head-scratchingly hackneyed Horror cliché to get there and featured characters engaged in really dumb behavior, instance after instance, just to keep the story going at the expense of audience sympathy. I thought it was a pretty smart movie up until that point.
In certain ways, What Keeps You Alive reminded me of Revenge…
…in that a personal betrayal and attempted murder results in formerly intimate partners squaring off in a fight to the death in an isolated location.
Unlike the over-the-top, heavily stylized gore in Revenge, though, What Keeps You Alive featured graphic violence that felt more plausible and grounded in something a bit closer to reality.
The main character in What Keeps You Alive was also more endearing and sympathetic than the lead in Revenge. The betrayal here isn’t between a photogenic young lady engaging in an extramarital fling with a hot dude she already knows to be an immoral sleazebag, but perpetrated by a cold-hearted psychopath against her shocked and horrified spouse. It packs more of an emotional punch.
I didn’t feel the film was a complete waste of time, though. The first seventy-six minutes of What Keeps You Alive worked beautifully, then blew it during its final twenty or so, which was rather disappointing. For all the rave reviews I’d read, I expected the film’s story to be crafted with a bit more care and imagination.