If Saw’s Jigsaw Killer received his doctorate in marriage therapy, his counselling would resemble the drawn-out home invasion portrayed in Held, a sanctimonious and straight-up stupid thriller that squanders its potential for big scares in small spaces.
In theory, the film is a fitting follow-up for directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing (The Gallows). Just like their Blumhouse-produced thriller, Held also takes place within a vacuum – withdrawn from society. This infrastructure, at least, fits with the film’s recurring themes of feeling contained and controlled.
A married couple on the rocks, Henry (Bart Johnson) and Emma (the film’s screenwriter Jill Awbrey), celebrate their anniversary at a rented state-of-the-art house on a private estate with high-end security. Their personalities appear to be polar opposites, and we believe that more when Henry barks orders and talks at Emma. Their privacy is breached, however, when the home is taken over by a deep, sinister voice (co-director Cluff) and a cherub-masked stalker. The voice requests for Henry to be more polite, and for Emma to be more interested – both are constantly reminded about the importance of obeying.
The film has been billed as a “#MeToo-inspired horror/thriller”, which is a big mistake. To do that, the filmmakers would need to have an opinion on sexual harassment and assault, and have a true understanding of the players involved in a #MeToo scenario – to contribute to the discussion. By this measure, Promising Young Woman could be perceived as a “#MeToo-inspired horror/thirller”. Held treats the label as clickbait, which is inappropriate. Held is more about domestic abuse, and how power imbalances in a relationship can bind and groom the weaker partner into accepting a new definition of loyalty – almost bordering on Stockholm Syndrome. But, still, this theme is merely a gimmick for Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing to welcome in typical home invasion scares, and for the filmmakers to build towards a bogus third act.
Awbrey is just as guilty of showing false concern. There’s a glaring discrepancy in the villain’s undercooked motives – holding itself in high regards with its hearty advice and depiction of human decency and then abruptly exploiting the characters for cheap thrills – which leads to hollow exchanges about love and marriage. Awbrey’s performance is accurate on the surface, but lacks personality. Johnson’s husband lacks personality as well, but there’s no nuance to his boorish behaviour.
I kept waiting for Held to get a grip on itself. It not only failed to do so, but my disappointment grew as the film became more irresponsible.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie