Relationships aren’t easy. So, couples often turn to counseling, retreats, and anniversary weekends away as a means to heal certain wounds. These can make for compelling dramas and delightful scares. Couples Retreat took on the tension of mandatory counseling sessions. The Rental tested relationships on the backdrop of a weekend away. Now, Held is here to maroon a pair to a bungalow that’s got more booby traps than even your filthiest Airbnb.
Emma (Jill Awbrey) and husband Henry (Bart Johnson) are meeting up for a weekend getaway to celebrate their anniversary. Emma arrives first, enjoying every detail if the secluded hideout: the pool, the wine, dancing on her own, and the high-tech security system. Her lovely evening for one is interrupted when Henry arrives early, causing her to clam up. The two spend the night trying to reignite their spark, but it’s interrupted when they suddenly feel faint. Overnight, they’re visited by the unwelcome host, who stages something sinister. When they awaken, they’re launched into a life-or-death game of being forced back into a traditional and ‘effective’ marriage. In the world’s bloodiest couple’s counseling session, the pair are pushed to face off against their infidelity, their gender roles, and their sex lives at the whims of a voice that’s holding them hostage.
Held is directed by by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, most known for directing The Gallows. It’s interesting to see what the duo is capable of outside of the found footage space. They use their setting, a luxurious bungalow, in interesting ways that add to the film’s tension. They play with things like security camera footage to play fun visual tricks, albeit not unique ones. Tension is built in subtle ways early on, like having Emma appear uncomfortable with the nosy cab, who asks if she’s alone. Such moments are carried through most of the first act, which sets off for some arm rest grabbing fear. But, much of the steam is lost when the horror turns up.
Leading lady Awbrey also wrote the feature. She took some big swings at analyzing gender roles and the patriarchy, but missed most of them. By purporting to save their marriage, the disembodied voice has the couple submit to specific gendered actions. But the themes of this get lost as the voice is more concerned with forcing Emma into her role than teaching her to submit to it for the good of her marriage. Plainly, it’s muddy, and paired with an opening scene about sexual assault and a twist most audience members will see coming, it’s even more difficult to recognize what the movie is trying to say. It ends up mostly inoffensive in a way that makes you wish it’d just gone for broke.
Most of the runtime is padded with a couple being awkwardly tortured into submitting to things like the husband opening doors, and the wife putting on makeup and cooking dinner. There’s not much meat in watching someone get electroshocked until they say, “thank you,” even for those of us who enjoy blowing through torture porn franchises.
Held has some solid tension and compelling themes that could have made for something to talk about, but it all gets lost in its confusing twist on The Stepford Wives. It feels inspired by the word “gaslight,” but it doesn’t get it wholly enough to target the issues of gender roles in marriages. We’ve been locked in our homes for a year, watching women show up on social media to post about their husbands not helping with the dishes. Held’s exploration of that dynamic is nowhere near as compelling as those tweets.
Held opens in theaters and On Demand on April 9.
Epidemiologists do not think it’s safe yet to go to theaters even with social distancing and safety measures in place. This review of a theatrical release is not an endorsement or suggestion otherwise. This film was reviewed via a screening link.
Header Image Source: Magnolia Pictures