Think of your partner or a good friend. Find out what you know about him or her. Are you sure the face is not a mask behind which a stranger is watching you? Do we ever know people well enough? The protagonist in “What Keeps You Alive”, both written and directed by Colin Minihan (“Grave Encounters”, “It Stains The Sands Red”), is faced with a very negative answer to these questions.
Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) takes her wife Jules (Brittany Allen) to her family home, somewhere in the woods, to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary. It is clear that Jules is the “man” in the relationship and she acts as such. However, from there, Jules starts to suspect that something is wrong with Jackie. On the first night they sit by a crackling fire where Jackie picks up a guitar and sings a tune about a “demon inside” that comes out through blood. While singing Jackie’s eyes take on something sinister that makes it seem like the tune is a warning of what’s to come, a twisted prayer to some dark god. Jules doesn’t know this side of Jackie. She takes the guitar and starts making out with Jackie. However, they are interrupted by a car entering the yard. Jackie walks out and is greeted by a childhood friend, Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), who names her Megan (instead of Jackie). Jules finds out that she doesn’t know everything about her partner. And this is the beginning of a series of revelations that are quite a challenge for Jules.
When we look at our social circle, the people we love and our friends, we feel that we know them, to some extent. Especially our partner. And especially when we are married to this one. “What Keeps You Alive” vehemently questions all these certainties by presenting a situation where the person you think you know best turns out to be a total stranger. The film shows how a completely different person can hide behind a facade of kindness, a person completely stripped of humanity where the eyes, which first looked at us sweetly, are bottomless pits of strangeness. After seeing the movie, you doubt the world and keep a butcher knife under your pillow. Jules, who had always thought she was the alpha-female in the relationship, soon finds out that she will have to revise this view.
Hannah Emily Anderson portrays a very strong character where the viewer feels the alienation from the normal and the warmly human. Slowly but surely, the light is being exchanged for the vacuum of the dark where there is no room for emotion or compassion: this is the area where human monsters reside and where every ray of hope melts away like a snowflake on a warm hand.
Brittany Allen is equally convincing in her role as Jules who witnesses Jackie’s emergence in horror and cannot imagine that her partner, the one who meant everything to her, was nothing but a veneer on a lot of misery and sadism.
The camerawork (David Schuurman) and the direction (Colin Minihan) are also of quality, conveying the subtle emotions of shivering and horror, cruelty and coldness to the viewer. Some scenes are creatively filmed and give a fresh perspective to the story. The soundtrack adds an extra dimension to the whimsical atmosphere as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Silverchairs Anthem for the Year 2000 echoes through the woods.
The director knows how to subtly weave horror into the film. It is present in the tone of voice and in the eyes that do not laugh with the mouth. It has also been proven once again that, in the horror genre, humans, or what is sometimes lacking in humans, terrifies us the most. You have been warned.