Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, It Stains the Sands Red) has hit just about every corner of the horror genre after his latest film What Keeps You Alive explores the monster in us all: love. Minihan has been on quite the run over the years, and although his films don’t always work (looking at you, Extraterrestrial), I do appreciate that he consistently delves into very different genres—ghosts, aliens, zombies, and now perhaps the scariest monsters of them all: humans. In this one, majestic mountains, a still lake and venomous betrayals engulf a female married couple attempting to celebrate their one-year anniversary.
What Keeps You Alive is without a doubt Minihan’s best looking film yet—the environment is dark and quiet, and there’s an atmospheric weight to it that really stands out. It’s the perfect setting for the story he’s trying to tell: love coming to a violent end. If someone is trying to kill you, why not in the middle of gorgeous nowhere? And so the table is set for Minihan’s thriller, which unfortunately falls apart almost immediately.
Its first handful of minutes are phenomenal as the director lays out a cautionary sense of calmness. Although it’s a cliche, there’s a reason why so many horror movies take place at a cabin in the woods—a horror story that develops in the dark quiet of the woods is unmistakably creepy and the perfect setting for a story about monsters. In this film’s case, however, the monsters are human. It doesn’t take long before Jules finds out the terrifying truth about her wife and the real reason why she was brought to this lake house in the middle of nowhere. Story-wise, I’ll just leave it at that.
Much like some of Minihan’s other films, the biggest fault in What Keeps You Alive is its characters. Jules is an impressively stupid protagonist that continuously makes one bad decision after another just to fuel the plot. It’s not like she’s making these terrible choices out of circumstance (or bad luck), she’s doing them to fit into the director’s narrative box. All this does is paint the character as a dumb, screaming rag doll that serves only one purpose to the story. It’s a boring and tired trope and all it does is insult the audience because nobody wants to watch someone run into a wall for 90 minutes (at least I don’t).
And the biggest let down here is knowing that Minihan could have had an excellent film in What Keeps You Alive because there are some great moments—particularly the dinner party blood bath, which ruled very hard. But again, you can only expect the audience to go along with a character like Jules for so long before the entire journey feels like giant waste of time. Despite some impressive moments, What Keeps You Alive fails because its characters never reach outside of the box they were so carelessly written into.