It Stains the Sand Red was one of our favourite films at 2017’s Frightfest. The film directed by Colin Minihan starred rising genre star Brittany Allen (Jigsaw) as Molly, a young woman who finds herself stranded in the desert, relentlessly pursued by a zombie. Now the real-life actor / director couple return to Frightfest with latest project, What Keeps You Alive.
This time around Allen plays Jules, one half of a married couple whose anniversary turns sour. Set in an idyllic woodland area, Jules and Jackie arrive at Jackie’s old holiday home ready to celebrate their wedding anniversary in style. The happiness doesn’t last long however, and soon the women are at odds with one another, both fighting for their lives.
What Keeps You Alive feels very distinct from It Stains the Sand Red. For one, it’s visually completely different. It Stains the Sand Red‘s desert environment was desolate and oppressive, here there is lush greenery everywhere; this environment is alive and thriving. Despite their differences, these settings both act almost as a juxtapositional metaphor for what is happening on screen. In It Stains the Sand Red, the dead landscape helped emphasise Molly’s drive for life, breathing new life into her relationship with her son. This time around, the lively setting reinforces that Jules and Jackie’s relationship is dying. It’s a very subtle aesthetic, but one that proves Minihan is much more than a one trick pony.
This approach is followed through in the rest of the movie. It Stains the Sand Red gave a new slant on zombie films and had a remarkable amount of fun to it. What Keeps You Alive demonstrates that Minihan can also handle a much more serious and subdued thriller. Events unfold slowly, Minihan allowing us to get to know our couple before events spiral and they are wrenched apart. It takes until around the end of act one for the unexpected turn that sets the rest of events in motion. Once the floodgates open there is reveal after shocking reveal, somehow they all manage to come from left field surprising the audience every time.
Brittany Allen showcases chameleon-like skills with her portrayal of Jules. Those expecting another Molly should know that Jules could not be further from her. This is clear from just a basic image point, Allen almost unrecognisable. Gone is the bold Alabama Worley blonde bob and animal print clothing, replaced by a brunette pixie cut and baggy grey and neutral coloured clothes. Jules swaggers around with an almost masculine posture and voice, projecting confidence. This is quickly revealed to be more bravado than real, as Jules is almost crippled by anxieties, especially concerning Jackie. It’s fantastic to then watch as Jules morphs throughout the film, almost channelling her inner Sarah Connor in some moments.
Allen’s Jigsaw co-star (though the pair shared no scenes) Hannah Emily Anderson portrays Jackie as almost the polar opposite to Jules. Jackie is much more feminine, confident and bright, though this doesn’t last. It’s Anderson’s work as the darker version of Jackie that really commands the attention. She never goes full crazy, keeping her character grounded. If Jules is a Sarah Connor, then Jackie is most definitely the relentless Terminator.
If the story and acting aren’t enough to keep you engaged then the music and visuals certainly will. The score, provided by Allen, features a lot of haunting piano alongside pulse-racing synths. It’s a blend of the old and new and works perfectly within the rural setting. A standout sequence involves Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (Resident Evil game fans will be all too familiar with this tune) playing over a montage whose visuals include an inspired use of UV lighting. I won’t go into details as to why the UV light is being utilised but it’s a beautiful use of the technique and shows Minihan’s visual flair.
One of the more surprise leaden thriller films we’ve seen in a while, What Keeps You Alive is sensationally good. A movie that reveals the dangers of secrets within relationships and poses the question can we ever really know anybody? What Keeps You Alive may have you reassessing your other half. Mistrust is rife here and it’s all too easy for paranoia to seep through.
A wicked plot, brilliant performances, haunting score and a dash of flair make What Keeps You Alive an instant chilly classic.
This review was first published on THN. What Keeps You Alive is available to watch on Netflix.