What Keeps You Alive (2018)

What Keeps You Alive first published by SciFiNow

Colin Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive opens with a low-angle, from-the-ground shot of treetops above, swaying in the wind – and with an anniversary. A year after they married, Jules (Brittany Allen) and diabetic Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) celebrate with a second honeymoon at the isolated lakeside house in Timber Bay that Jackie’s grandfather built and where she spent the summers of her childhood. It is less a classic cabin in the woods than a beautiful rustic mansion, its quirky angles and winding hallways lovingly taken in by cinematographer David Schuurman’s sinuous camerawork.

“I have a confession to make: I think I love this place more than you,” declares Jules, before adding, “I mean, I could never, but it’s close, like, really close.” Jules is deeply in love with her wife – and as she explores the nooks and crannies of these “crazy” new environs, she is also acquainting herself with her lover’s carefully interiorised history. The unexpected arrival of Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), the married neighbour from across the lake and Jackie’s childhood playmate, introduces a note of unease. For Sarah calls Jackie by a different name, Megan, leaving Jules wondering just how well she really knows the woman with whom she has been sharing her life and love for the past twelve months. 

The little cracks and fissures forming in Jules’ sense of trust for Jackie will soon turn into a gaping chasm, as the two women’s relationship is brought to – and dropped over – a cliff edge. Make no mistake, What Keep You Alive is a film about cold-hearted betrayal, and about all the agonising pain and stunned incredulity, the desperation and humiliation and anger and bridge-burning, and the sheer will to survive, recover and maybe even move on, that erotic betrayal inspires. As his previous films Grave Encounters (2011), Extraterrestrial (2014) and It Stains the Sands Red (2016) amply exemplify, Minihan is very much a genre filmmaker, and it comes as no surprise that he inflects Jules’ rocky experiences through the breathless language and tropes of a survival thriller. At its heart, though, this is a break-up movie – and while, as the ultimate (literal) dumper, Anderson plays things cool and calculated, Allen, already very different here from her rôle in It Stains The Sands Red, shows even more versatility as she works brilliantly through a range of confused emotions, licks her wounds and catches her breath, finding a more determined centre and even a kind of ex’s revenge. 

Strap: A tense, dizzying exploration of emotional – and emotionless – betrayal, expressed in the language of genre.

© Anton Bitel