Directed by Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing.
Written by Jill Awbrey.
Starring Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson, Rez Kempton, Zack Gold, Jener Dasilva, Tessa Munro, Ryan Shoos, Christian Telesmar, Porchea Carroll, Liz Fenning, Paul Mischeshin, Paul Pavelski, Megan Scortino
A long-time married couple rent a home on the countryside for a quiet, romantic weekend to get away from stress and work. But soon after they arrive, they begin to feel woozy and pass out only to find themselves trapped inside a sealed and locked home when they awake. With an unknown voice guiding them from the intercoms, the couple are forced to take part in activities to strengthen their relationship, but if they stray from these instructions, a jolt of electricity is shot into them from an implant put in them while they were asleep.
HELD starts out decent enough. It maps out a mystery as the viewer, along with the couple, aren’t made privy as to what is going on. Through trial and error with the couple, we discover the size and scope of the dangers they face. I will say I was caught up with this plot up to a point, as the perils of the situation begin to sink in to this trapped couple under a microscope.
One of the problems with HELD, though, is that the leads, writer/actress Jill Awbrey and Bart Johnson, just don’t seem to match up. They really lack chemistry and it doesn’t seem like this couple would realistically be together from looking at them. I’m trying to be kind here, but this is a film produced, written, and starring Jill Awbrey and I feel the choice to make her the lead actress might have been a leap too far and sort of stinks like a vanity piece. Johnson is handsome and charming, like an older Ken doll, but Awbrey is the center of attention here and doesn’t really exude the charm and likability necessary for the viewer to take this journey with her. Much of her role feels like wish fulfilment, not unlike the stuff you normally see on the Lifetime channel.
To get into the biggest issue of HELD, I have to venture into SPOILER territory, so if you don’t want key plot points ruined, just take my above criticism and move on. So, there be SPOILERS ahead, mateys! ******
In HELD, it is revealed that the whole point of this imprisonment is an attempt to domesticize the wife—a program bought by the husband to make their wife, who have become a little too independent, easier to control. This is a twist on THE STEPFORD WIVES and more recently GET OUT, so it’s not like this is a new concept in horror. The problem is the inciting action for Johnson’s Henry character to have his wife, Awbry’s Emma, undergo this process is that she was sleeping with someone else. And while turning your wife into a zombie is a bit extreme of a punishment for infidelity and two wrongs don’t make a right, it really doesn’t make Emma a sympathetic character. The final half hour of HELD casts Emma as the hero, battling her way against a secret society of misogynists hired by her husband to domesticize her. The main problem here is that this entire predicament would have been avoided had Emma not cheated on her husband. This is an issue with the writing as Emma is given no real reason to cheat. Her husband seems like a decent guy who loves her and finds her attractive. There is no point, until the big character reversal when the cards are shown during the climax, where we are given any indication as to why Emma cheated. This was the film’s chance to show the husband as an abuser or preoccupied with work or something, but as far as the info we’ve been given, he’s done nothing to drive her to betray their marriage. Yes, the reaction Henry has is extreme, but it definitely sully’s the shining armor Emma brandishes at the end of this film as she heroically fights against all of these bad men. It’s as if the film was rushing to get to the point where Emma fights back and never took the time to justify these actions.
Wrongheaded writing mistakes aside, this is a good looking film. I really liked the décor of the home, which had a 70’s retro style, matching the mentality of those behind the horrors. I also loved the drone shots of the house, surrounded by an orchard of trees which is at the same time beautiful and claustrophobic. It’s just too bad HELD bungled the landing by seeming too focused on telling a story of female empowerment without doing the character work to justify it in the story.