Like its not-quite-done-and-dusted hero, the horror grinder What Keeps You Alive tries — boy, does it try. Jules (Brittany Allen) has just been dumped by her wife, Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson), and by “dumped” I mean “pushed off a cliff in the middle of the woods during a cabin getaway.” Like the baddie of a dumb action movie, Jules improbably survives, rising from the ground a gnarly wreck. Once her broken bones are snapped back into place, she’s ready to survive the night, the next day, the following night — however long it takes to elude her surprise attacker or, once properly dehumanized and raw, enact some jilted lover’s revenge.
What Keeps You Alive’s ability to keep going and going and going is impressive, but seasoned low-budget-genre director Colin Minihan (Extraterrestrial) grounds the twisty shenanigans in something deeper — or at least gives it the old college try. The busted-up Jules has to pull double duty: staying alive while wrestling with feelings of betrayal, of trust shattered, of a relationship that, as Phil Collins would put it, has all been a pack of lies. Quickie black-and-white flashbacks to the salad days pop into Jules’s head during brief spurts of downtime, each one a splash of hydrogen peroxide on a fresh wound.
Minihan’s ambitions are towering, so it’s only right to note that he doesn’t quite get there. The ideas, even the emotions, don’t develop and grow; they just repeat until one or both of our leads has croaked. (That one of them is a one-note psycho doesn’t help, though the role is played with deadpan élan.) We’re left with Spy vs. Spy by way of The Revenant, only better directed.
What Keeps You Alive
Directed by Colin Minihan
Opens August 24, at IFC Center
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 21, 2018