(Spoilers on the road ahead) Like a good horror, suspense movie What Keeps You Alive leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the viewer to follow. The trail is short and some of it’s sweet. Unfortunately, the end of the trail is not as good as the beginning.
Jackie and Jules spend a weekend at Jackie’s grandfather’s cabin to celebrate their one year anniversary. The cabin in the woods should be your first clue that nothing good is going to happen after the opening credits end. The second clue is how easily and expertly Jackie handles a rifle. The third to last clue is when Jackie’s childhood friend Sarah visits the cabin and asks to see Megan. Megan it turns out is Jackie.
It becomes quite apparent, even after Jackie explains certain things away, that something isn’t quite right with Jackie. Jules (Brittany Allen, The Boys), on the other hand, is convinced everything is okay with Jackie and their relationship. She could not be more wrong. Jackie shoves her over a cliff.
It isn’t a simple shove. She takes a running leap at Jules sending her over the cliff to the rocks below. Jackie returns to the scene after rehearsing a scenario for the police who she plans to call later about her wife’s “accident.” True to these types of movies Jules is missing.
For a few scenes What Keeps You Alive becomes a game of cat and mouse. Jules, battered and broken from the fall, struggles to hide from Jackie. Unlike movies with the theme of human hunting human (The Most Dangerous Game, Surviving the Game) the cat and mouse game abruptly ends when Jackie catches Jules. What Keeps You Alive isn’t about one human hunting another human, it’s about Jackie’s mental state.
Jackie is crazy. To be more precise, Jackie is a sociopath. Although she had a normal childhood with good parents Jackie is as far from sane as one could imagine. As Jackie tells Jules it’s a case of “nature over nurture.” Jackie’s nature is to kill without remorse and without feeling. In no uncertain terms she tells Jules she will kill her like she killed her previous wife. Later we learn she also killed her parents and a childhood friend.
It’s scary how natural Hannah Anderson (Dark Phoenix) goes from loving wife to homicidal maniac. Figuratively speaking, you can see the switch turn off and her eyes go dead. More outrageous maniacs have appeared on screen (Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad), but few actors have portrayed calm crazy like Anderson.
However, director Colin Minihan doesn’t know when to pull back on the crazy. It was enough to know Jackie is going to kill Jules. It was enough to knoww Jackie is responsible for killing at least four other people. Jackie goes full blown bonkers when she kills Sarah and her husband Daniel during a dinner party.
The cabin is drenched in blood. We’re treated to a scene of Jackie cutting Sarah apart with an ax before dumping both her and Daniel in a lake. Afterwards Jackie cleans the apartment of every drop of blood like a woman possessed. There can’t be any blood in the cabin if her plan of collecting insurance money based on an accidentally death is going to work. These scenes are beautifully lit with only a black light to illuminate the blood on the walls,floors, and on Jackie’s body.
Jackie’s plan to kill Jules for insurance money was never going to work, not the way the movie set it up to work. The killing of the neighbors would have derailed the whole plan. Judging by their house on a lake, shown earlier in the movie, Sarah and Daniel were rich. Wealthy people, wealthy white people, do not go missing without friends and family noticing their absences. Police would have been on the case before the credits ended.
There’s one particular scene during Jackie’s marathon cleaning session where she is shown playing a piano. The blood on her skin is glowing underneath the black light. The movie could have ended with Jackie glowing on the piano bench looking at the audience. No need to explain what happened to Julie. We would have known what happened to her. It would he been the perfect ending for the movie.
Instead, Minihan gives us a final and needless third act. It’s the third act where What Keeps You Alive falls apart. It starts with a nonsensical dream of Jules stabbing Jackie through the heart and ends (STOP READING HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING) with Jackie dying in a field.
In the middle of these two events are two great examples of deus ex machina ever committed to film. (Major Spoiler) During Jackie’s hunt of Jules she used tranquilizer darts to try and subdue her. Remember, she had to be alive for her to kill her at the cliffs. No, the fact that the tranquilizer would still be present during an autopsy is not the sin we are talking about.
On the way to the killing spot Jules stabs Jackie in the neck with the same type of tranquilizer dart. At no time did we ever see Jules finding and hiding a tranquilizer dart. Yet, she saves herself by jabbing one in Jackie’s neck. Where did it come from? When did she find it and how did she hide it under her leg without Jackie seeing it? We don’t know because no clues were ever given for the viewer to figure out what was going to happen.
At some point during the movie Jules, who had been petrified the entire movie, found time to tamper with Jackie’s diabetes medicine. Again, it’s not the fact that Jackie’s condition was only shown once that makes tampering with her diabetes an act of deus ex machina. The sin is she had time to find bleach, steal Jackie’s diabetes medicine, mix the two solutions, and return it without being caught. The way the movie is structured there was no time for Jules to do any of the mentioned acts.
Was it brave to make the married couple a lesbian couple? I’ll let others decide the answer to the question. The same sex couple could have easily been replaced with a traditional married couple. Making the married couple a same sex couple doesn’t give Minihan an excuse to ruin what otherwise was a compelling and at times tense psychological horror movie with poor plot devices.