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IFI Horrorthon 2018 Review - WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE

WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE review
A woman faces a fight for survival upon learning her wife is a psychopathic killer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Colin Minihan

Starring: Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen, Martha MacIsaac, Joey Klein

WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE poster


You can roughly gauge a minority group's progression in society by how comfortable we are in seeing members of that minority portrayed as antagonists in genre movies. In the not so distant past, homosexuality was widely viewed as a sickness, leading to a series of movie villains not so subtly coded as queer. Hitchcock's films are full of thinly veiled villainous lesbians and gay men, from Mrs Danvers to Norman Bates, while as recently as the 1990s, mainstream Hollywood was presenting us with disturbed lesbians and transvestites in blockbusters like Basic Instinct, Single White Female and The Silence of the Lambs.


WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE review

Writer/director Colin Minihan's thriller What Keeps You Alive offers us another psychopathic lesbian, but the movie never suggests that she's a psychopath because she's a lesbian. Rather than coming off as prejudicial and mean-spirited, Minihan's film feels truly progressive. Its villain's sexuality is barely mentioned, and the central lesbian relationship is presented with the same workaday mundanity as any heterosexual coupling, never played for cheap titillation or shock value for more conservative viewers.

To mark her first full year of marriage to Jules (Brittany Allen), Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) takes her wife for a romantic getaway at the secluded woodland cabin where she grew up. The romance of the occasion is ruined when one of Jackie's old childhood friends, Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), comes snooping around and addresses Jackie by her real name, Megan. Later, with Jules giving her the cold shoulder, Jackie explains that she changed her name upon coming out as a way of leaving her closeted life behind her.


WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE review

The next morning, with Jackie away in town, Jules takes a rowboat across to Sarah's home, where she learns that Sarah and Jackie once had a third friend who died in suspicious circumstances while out on a lake with Jackie. Confronting her wife with this information, Jules is satisfied with Jackie's explanation that a police investigation cleared her of any foul play, but she soon learns in violent fashion that Jackie did indeed kill her childhood friend, and plans to dispose of her new wife in similar fashion.

At first it seems we're in for yet another riff on The Most Dangerous Game, with Jules hunted through the woods by Jackie, who we learn early on is a crack shot with a rifle thanks to childhood lessons from her woodsman father. To the film's benefit, things take a twist and What Keeps You Alive becomes more of a psychological game of cat and mouse between the two women, with Sarah and her husband also finding themselves unwittingly drawn into this fraught domestic drama during a decidedly awkward dinner party in the film's standout sequence. In the climax, things get a little silly however, as one of the characters makes a decision that was a leap of logic I couldn't take with her.


WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE review

Minihan claims he initially wrote the part of Jackie as male, changing it to female to add a layer of freshness. To his credit, his decision never feels like a mere marketing gimmick, and in Allen and Anderson he has a pair of leads that effectively communicate the love/hate, hunter/hunted relationship of the two women. With her athletic build, Anderson is as physically intimidating as any male villain, and her convincing malevolence doesn't do anything to dispel stereotypes of fiery redheads. That said, there's a final twist that I feel would have been a lot more impactful, and indeed timely, if Jackie had been left as a man.


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