What Keeps You Alive, a 2018 Canadian thriller movie, follows a young protagonist who realizes how little we know about others even though they are standing in front of us all the time.
Indeed, it all begins with the happy Jules and her new bride, Jackie, traveling to a lonely forest to spend their first weekend as newlyweds.
The setting of Jackie’s family’s elegant cottage is lovely and peaceful, with the calm nature of giant green trees and a vast lake sparkling like a mirror not far away.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere suddenly changes when Jackie attempts to kill Jules by throwing her off a high cliff, but the latter survives despite being seriously injured.
Jules realizes her new wife, Jackie, is crazy when she secretly watches Jackie’s strange behavior in the woods, where Jackie first seems worried but then becomes cold and even laughs.
From then on, the only hope is a couple who live not far away, on the other side of the lake, and who seems to know the girl and even call her by another name, suggesting that it is a false identity.
As Jules becomes weaker and disoriented, Jackie adequately prepares for the hunt, being skilled with weapons and knowing the place well.
But Jules is also not as helpless as she seems, having some rudimentary medical knowledge despite never having finished her studies and struggling to endure the madness with the only advantage she has: her culture and her brain.
The confrontation between these two ladies will be vicious and no-holds-barred, while unbiased nature will stand by indifferently waiting to see who will emerge victorious.
A fearful partnership!
The cinematic partnership between Colin Minihan and Brittany Allen – companions in life as well as on the set – works to perfection in their third movie together, with What Keeps You Alive arriving in 2018 after Extraterrestrial and It Stains the Sands Red with the actress still playing the heroic woman in distress.
Leaving behind the previous supernatural alien/zombie plot, this thriller delves into the unsettling mind of a serial killer who is as cruel as he is efficient and planned: a lethal, flawless killing machine.
Jackie (a stunning and cold-hearted Hannah Emily Anderson) smoothly conceals she never feels fear or empathy for anyone, organizing and repeating this grisly hunting ritual; we don’t even know for how long.
A challenge between two very different women, even more evident than they appear at first glance: one is beautiful, strong, and intelligent, capable of pushing from delicate and exciting intimate homosexual moments to sudden outbursts of brutal violence, both physical and psychological.
In body, Jules appears more awkward and masculine, and her cherished lover betrays and humiliates her. She discovers that her lover brought her to those forests with the sole intention of adding her to her secret collection of girlfriends/victims.
Moreover, apart from the horrific post-massacre scene where Jules cleans the victims’ blood to the notes of Beethoven’s tragic Moonlight Sonata, Brittany Allen contributes several pieces of music to the subdued and melancholy (yet always disturbing) soundtrack that accompanies this story.
As you can see, two actresses and Minihan’s solid direction/screenplay are more than enough for this psychological epic with undertones (sometimes more than undertones) of terror and suspense; in a story as harsh and timeless as the law of nature itself, where you can only be prey or hunter.
Psychologically destructive and emotionally lacerating
This strange thriller owes much of its success to two close-knit protagonists and careful aesthetic care, transforming these immense and stupendous woods into a claustrophobic trap with no exit.
Jackie is a woman with no morals or soul, physically incapable of feeling emotion except when she hunts and kills: indeed, perhaps not even then, as she points out to her companion, who measures her pulse, perfectly normal, after slaughtering her neighbors.
Through Hannah Emily Anderson’s emotionless eyes and gaze, she almost wants to make sense of her life by taking it away from others. Still, when her companion responds by hitting harder than she could have imagined, we finally glimpse a human flash of anger.
Jules, if we want to sum up this character, seems more mundane and ordinary: something drives her more than anything else — the will to survive. But the splendid final twist also shows a lover with wounded pride. After someone humiliates her, she wants and demands revenge, even if she has to risk everything.
It is difficult to summarize a plot that is basically quite simple, but what really makes the difference is the psychological escalation in the relationship between the protagonists, enhanced by the director’s choice of pacing that rises and falls like a hammer.
However, this is not the classic survival, with the victim running and running all the time. Every minute adds one more piece to Jackie’s twisted psychology, from her childhood to her first murderous teenage experiences.
What Keeps You Alive is a 90-minute, face-to-face, all-female romp and one of the most maltreated movies of 2018, both by critics and audiences who seem to have failed to grasp its singular appeal at all.