I've begun to realize that it's best for me to go into a film without expectations and knowing little of what I'm getting myself into. Colin Minihan's gorgeous and brutal thriller, What Keeps You Alive, is a film that will work best when you have no idea what to expect. So, for the sake of your viewing experience, I'm going to do my best to keep this review as spoiler free as possible.
Leaving behind the supernatural and post-apocalyptic plots of his past films (Grave Encounters and It Stains The Sands Red), Minihan goes for a much more realistic approach with What Keeps You Alive, which makes it all the more terrifying. Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) take a trip to Jackie's remote cabin in the woods for a weekend celebration of their one year wedding anniversary. The cabin, which belonged to Jackie’s grandfather, hasn’t been occupied in years. This catches the attention of Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), Jackie's childhood friend and neighbor from across the lake, who sees lights on late one night. During her visit, Sarah strangely refers to "Jackie" as Megan, causing Jules to question if the love of her life is really who she says she is. The tranquil setting takes a turn for the worst shortly after that first seed of doubt is planted in Jules' mind, leading up to a climax that will leave your jaw on the floor. To say anything more would likely spoil the many surprises this film has to offer.
Minihan once again showcases his ability to take a somewhat simple horror plot and turn it into something fresh and exciting. The very small cast of four did great within their roles, with Anderson and Allen both delivering beyond compelling performances, their chemistry just blended perfectly and at times was downright awe-inspiring. Without their complete commitment and passion for the parts they played, What Keeps You Alive wouldn't have been nearly as effective as a whole.
The film's score is surprisingly fantastic for a film of this budget and often feels as though it belongs in something you'd hear in a Hollywood blockbuster. The score works wonders for the hauntingly breathtaking visuals that are captured on screen by the very talented camerawork of David Schuurman. The cinematography of What Keeps You Alive is an entity of its own, creating disorientation and paranoia among the isolated beauty of the cabin's surroundings. There's even a rowboat chase scene that is made way more tense and exciting than a rowboat chase should be, all thanks to Schuurman's creativity.
The only major gripe I have is that What Keeps You Alive is in the film's final act. The movie seems to come to a satisfying end but then keeps on adding more. I feel that Minihan could've edited the final scenes a little better, or even cut moments out to end earlier and have a more impacting conclusion. Don't get me wrong, the film still has a solid ending, I just feel it would have benefited from ending sooner, on a higher and more shocking note.
What Keeps You Alive is a film that grabs you, shakes you to your core, and doesn't let up until the final frame. The tension that writer-director Colin Minihan was able to create within the film is often gut-wrenching, unpredictable, and will have you on the edge of your seat throughout the majority of the its run-time. What Keeps You Alive is a nerve-twisting cat-and-mouse thriller that you shouldn't miss!
What Keeps You Alive will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on November 27th from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight.