REVIEW: Held (2020)

dir. Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing.

When Emma (Jilly Awbrey) and Henry Barrett (Bart Johnson) check into a secluded getaway for some much needed marriage time, it’s clear that not all is well. Aside from the creepy taxi driver who drops Emma off and the mysterious space beneath the kitchen units, there’s also a distance between the couple: a relational void, howling and wide. Things quickly escalate when the house goes into lockdown and an authoritarian voice orders them to obey a series of tasks, with the apparent aim of rebuilding their union.

The spectre of male violence hangs heavy over Held, from the constrictive title (which reframes the traditional marriage vow from intimacy to confinement), to the opening moments where a flashback reveals Emma was sexually assaulted in her youth whilst trapped in the back of a car. In this sense the masked male demanding the couple act out traditional patriarchal constructs (Henry must open the door for Emma; she must cook the dinner) joins the dots to form a continuum of oppression: the dramatic representation of more everyday aggressions.

In a similar vein directors Cluff and Lofing neatly flip the home invasion trope: although this is not the Barrett’s own residence there is a mysterious assailant, and their aim is not to keep him out but rather to themselves escape. Such clever plotting is no mere sophistry but neatly weaponises the domestic space, the house becoming a prison which again mirrors the real-life limitation of women by male attitudes that would seek to keep them at home. This converts proceedings essentially into a tech-savvy cabin-in-the-woods movie, but where the cabin is a dream house and the monster is toxic maleness.

Taking in additional themes of gameplaying, surveillance and moral judgement, the tight script unfurls like a marriage counselling session run by Jigsaw, and if the final act lands a little heavy the film hits hardest in how closely it follows the real-life experiences of women everywhere.

Tim Coleman

HELD has its World Premiere at FrightFest Digital Edition 2 on 21st October 2020.

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