Held has all the hallmarks of a film made during the pandemic. It’s basically stuck in one location, it has a small cast, and a small crew. You have the writer, Jill Awbrey, pulling double duty as the star, Emma. Co-directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, the two of them do an admirable job with the material and how the two leads are presented. Bart Johnson co-stars as Emma’s husband, Henry Barrett. Outside of those two, you have Rez Kempton as Joe, the ride-share driver at the start of the film, and Zack Gold as Ryan.
For such a small cast, it means that there really is no margin for error in the scenes. You don’t get the luxury of forgetting a subpar scene with a change to other actors. Awbrey and Johnson have to just soldier through. As for the premise of the film, it’s a pretty inventive one that turns into the predictable. What happens if you and your spouse go to a retreat for your anniversary weekend to a far-out Air BNB and there’s something off about the house? It’s quite simple and the film does well with that execution for the first section of the film.
The trailer does a really good job of making the film look like something it’s not, however. The trailer feels a bit more like The Strangers and less like the actual material in the film. It’s sure to draw people into the film though, it worked for me.
Awbrey and Johnson Definitely Carry The Film To A Better Score
If the two leads in this film weren’t as great as they were, the film would certainly suffer. The material in the film isn’t necessarily badly written or anything, not by a long shot. It’s just that some of the scenes would stick out as silly or funny when they were meant to be scary. Luckily, that doesn’t happen. This film doesn’t have a trigger warning at the beginning for a scene depicting the beginnings of a sexual assault, but Emma suffers in her life due to a sexual assault that she went through. Her marriage is on the rocks. Henry and Emma make another effort to fix the marriage by going to a far-off place for their anniversary.
What ends up happening is that their drinks are spiked and the dream anniversary turns very quickly into a nightmare. A devilish voice breaks out over the smart speakers in the house. Emma and Henry wake up realizing that their room has been tampered with. When they’re outside to investigate, Henry is attacked from behind. The voice over the speaker threatens them, and when they disobey, an ear-piercing screech blasts across the house. They have implants just behind their ears that basically seal their fate and force them to do the bidding of their captor.
It’s quite an inventive plot for today’s life. We have plenty of different smart devices that we trust to keep us safe and sound. Smart locks, smart phones, smart speakers, everything. So when someone hacks those and takes you prisoner, what can you do?
Well at the end of the film, without spoiling it, that is very much not the case.
Now For The, Let’s Say, Bad
Remember when I was talking about those scenes that would verge on silly without the strength of the two leads? Well there are some scenes that even with strong performances verge into the silly territory. Most of the scenes involving the devilish voice commanding Emma and Henry to do things could either be parodied on SNL or made into a porno parody with no work.
It’s the combination of the tone of voice they chose for it and just the sheer absurdity of the scenes. Some of them are quite powerful, especially after one of the films big reveals. After a short time, you can see the “twist” coming though. Once you get to the twist, it lets even more air out of the plot. I can’t really say if this was something that was more similar to The Strangers or something like that, if it would be better or worse.
The film rests on the performances of it’s leads, but the rest around it sort of falls off. You’ve got predictable beats throughout and luckily the film doesn’t go deep into the sort of torture porn theatrics that it could have. For that, I at least commend the filmmakers for having some self-control. The scenes of brutal violence and pain are short and get the job done. The performances in the later stages of the film especially with our “villain” are really wooden. It might come off like that because of his character, but it just doesn’t work for me.
Held Ends Up Being Watchable But No Landmark Of The Genre
Held doesn’t fit into the boxes of genre that you’d want it to. It’s part horror, more thriller. It doesn’t fall into stereotypes of films like this with jump scares or anything like that. It does a good job of building tension, but the plot sort of lets that tension out. Like I’ve said throughout, this film would be a huge mess without the strong performances of Jill Awbrey and Bart Johnson as Emma and Henry Barrett. Johnson is fiery and passionate, Awbrey is cunning and smart for the run of the film.
It just really ends up being simply watchable, but nothing more than that. You’re not looking at a genre upending film here, and I don’t think that’s really fair to look for out of the film either. Give Held a watch when it releases on digital and in theaters on April 9th.
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