The prologue to Have Hold Take is a disorienting montage. First we see three doors marooned alongside one another in a smoky void. Then there is a luxurious house – a real space but also, thanks to the bold whites, blacks and reds of its classically decorated interiors, suggestive of a Lynchian limbo. A fourth door – and a billowing red curtain – is the threshold across which groom Vincent (Trevor Algatt) carries his bride Erica (Brinna Kelly), who is openly in awe of her new home. All this is intercut with footage of bride and groom circling each other and violently dancing together on a dark stage. As the couple kisses, and as the heading for Part 1 appears on screen (the film has six formally titled parts) to the accompaniment of the lyric “Is is too good to be true?” from Faith Richards’ Blue, viewers are discomfited by this introduction’s carefully edited spatial shiftings, and by the sense that its marital idyll might also be oneiric and illusory. In this dislocated barrage of impressions, something does not quite add up.
Have Hold Take is set over a single wedding night, in which two lost souls will try to find each other in a conjugal merger. While the setting is modern, there is also something traditional, antiquated, even primal about the proceedings. For one of the newlyweds is – or claims to be – Catholic, meaning that this first night of marriage is also to be the couple’s first sexual encounter. In a house whose walls are festooned with clocks telling different times, Erica is in a hurry to get down to the evening’s business (“Haven’t we waited long enough?”, she asks), while Vincent urges patience and wants to take things slowly, sharing with Erica the dinner that he has prepared for them and showing his bride her new home’s rooms – now their communal domain – one at a time. As they contemplate both the perfection of this night, and its inevitable ephemerality, their conversation comes with menacing undertones. “You like it – a little bloody?”, Vincent will ask Erica. This is in direct response to her complaint that the meat which he has just served is not rare enough for her tastes, but it is not hard also to discern a reference in his words to an anticipated defloration (even if she is no virgin), or perhaps to something more sinister. Meanwhile, in encouraging Vincent to make his first toast to her something memorable, Erica suggests ominously that he “pretend it were our last.”
There is, from the start, a sense that one or other – or both – of these characters is involved in a masquerade, and that a destructive truth is about to shatter the illusion of marital bliss, as what has been hidden is finally unveiled. Perhaps it is the mysterious wooden box that Erica takes from her suitcase and conceals in her new closet. Or perhaps it is the way in which Vincent, clearly eager to be in control, stage- and micro-manages the evening’s events, and keeps reducing Erica to her beauty. Ever so slowly, as these two characters manoeuvre towards the night’s climax, their secret sides are figured in otherworldly zones of the imagination. Vincent constantly takes advice and instructions from his childhood self (played by twins Anderson and Maxwell Manthe) about what he should do, even as he envisages – and objectifies – Erica as both life-size porcelain doll and puppet. Meanwhile Erica imagines herself literally centre stage as both sultry showgirl and femme fatale, applauded by those (Skyler Hart, Leve Ross, Alex Sosin) whose paths she has previously crossed. These alter egos unfold an alternative psycho-commentary on what is unfolding in the house, in a confounding chaos of cross-cutting that fragments and complicates the characters’ identity.
Like director D.C. Hamilton and writer Brinna Kelly’s previous feature The Fare (2018), their latest Have Hold Take is essentially a two-hander with an intricately constructed narrative that keeps twisting through and back over itself in unexpected ways. There are abstractualised flashbacks and constant switches to the characters’ inner worlds, but for the most part the film is confined to the newly built house, which forms an arena for a twisty battle between conflicting but possibly compatible desires. This definitely is – or at least becomes – a genre film, with locked-in-the-basement thrills and psychopathic mayhem galore. Yet it also, like Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999), Ate de Jong’s Deadly Virtues (2014), Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon (2014), Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing (2018) and Dane Elcar’s Brightwood(2022), deploys the tropes of genre to amplify the ties and toxicities, the deep deceptions and home truths, the kinks, quirks and power plays that make up a marital relationship, and must continuously be negotiated to keep both parties’ passions accommodated.
Ever excessive in both her romantic ideals and her ‘needs’, Erica may keep pushing the reluctant Victor towards “christening the sheets”, but it is impossible to do that, or more broadly to engage in issues of love, without making a mess. It is that mess, in all its complexity, which Hamilton and Kelly’s film is, like a blushing bride, tentatively exploring, as its central characters must learn, on their quest for perfect love, to live not just with one another’s best sides but also with their worst – at least till death do them part. In these hallucinatory scenes from a marriage, Hamilton’s frenetic editing propels Have Hold Take towards a mutually satisfactory union of psychosexual fantasy and hard reality that is memorable in part for its momentariness.
strap: D.C. Hamilton and Brinna Kelly’s wedding night psychodrama accommodates hallucinatory scenes from a marriage
© Anton Bitel