This movie was recommended to me as a cross between American Psycho and High Tension. While that comparison is apropos, the screenplay has some big problems that detract from the What Keeps You Alive as a whole.
Colin Minihan wrote, directed, and edited this film about a lesbian couple whose cabin getaway turns twisted and violent. It was his project top-to-bottom but another set of eyes could have helped clean some things up. He didn’t waste time getting to the point which was good since the trailer essentially gives away the major story elements but the screenplay does a poor job of establishing its characters from the outset and the actors have a difficult time finding their stride as a result.
It’s tough to successfully build suspense or fear when the audience knows what’s coming. In the rare instances where you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, the logical progression is skirted in favor of drawing things out just to inject drama into the ending. It’s a case of writing backward from the end and forcing the majority of the story to meet the narrative requirements along the way. It happens multiple times throughout the movie where the dialogue establishes something contrary to what we see on screen, or vice versa. Minihan ultimately succeeds in getting the audience to feel a particular way but sub-par dialogue and readily predictable plot points made it much more difficult to reach that end.
The acting performances by Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen are passable considering all the foundational character work comes into play late. Even then, Minihan tries to recoup that deficit using passive flashback storytelling. They aren’t the most layered, complex portrayals but they were both strong enough in their single note renditions and the pair did a good job of selling the emotional burden of the story without the benefit of having chemistry with one another. Thankfully, Allen also composed some tense original music that helped guide the psychological peaks and valleys for the film.
The film has style to spare and David Schuurman’s cinematography plays a huge role in that. He combined beautiful landscape images with close-quarter, follow-cam shots that beautifully captured the vastness of the natural setting and the intimacy of cabin life on the lake. The use of creative lighting techniques to frame certain scenes and characters went a long way in establishing the tone. One sequence in particular utilizes black light and neon to paint a beautiful and horrific picture. The visual storytelling is more than strong enough to keep you engaged even as other elements fall short.
I’m on the fence with whether or not I liked this movie. It’s nice to see representation but at an hour and forty minutes, it feels incredibly drawn out as it gets caught in a weird loop in the third act. I appreciate the small team and the effort that went into the filmmaking craft but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the narrative elements.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for something in the suspense/thriller category on Netflix, this isn’t a terrible option but I’d recommend High Tension instead if you haven’t seen that.