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‘What Keeps You Alive’ Review: Lesbian Cat-and-Mouse Thriller Is a Brutal Tale of Betrayal

Betrayal turns brutal in this cat-and-mouse thriller that poses a simple if chilling question: How well do you know the person you love?

Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen in “What Keeps You Alive.”

Courtesy of IFC Midnight

In the age of Tinder and Bumble, finding new love can be as simple as a single swipe. But sometimes the prospects of meeting a total stranger can lead down some dark paths only visible with time. That’s the central theme throughout “What Keeps You Alive,” a smart and timely thriller from director Colin Minihan.

The filmmaker reimagines old horror tropes — particularly one half of a couple turning on the another in a remote location — through a topical lens. “What Keeps You Alive” is a chilling look at the unraveling of a relationship, and what happens when inner demons come bubbling to the surface to turn betrayal into bloodshed, bolstered by superb performances and some truly shocking twists.

Married couple Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) are celebrating their one year anniversary with a getaway at Jackie’s family cabin, tucked away in the middle of nowhere between the woods and a sprawling lake.

From the moment they arrive, Jules begins to unravel previously unknown truths about her wife. At first, they seem benign. Jackie indulges Jules with tales of growing up at the cabin house: how she grew up hunting with her father, who taught her never to kill for sport. With her survival skills and marksmanship, Jackie echoes Sharni Vinson’s survivalist of “You’re Next,” a final girl in the making with the means of enduring whatever horrors might come her way.

Except, here’s the thing: Jackie is that horror. The unexpected arrival of Jackie’s childhood friend, Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), who lives across the lake, brings up other stories about Jackie, ones she was carefully keeping in the shadows, including the mysterious death of a childhood friend, and the fact that Jackie’s name isn’t even Jackie. Alone in the woods with a woman she doesn’t even know anymore, Jules finds herself pitted against her own wife in a struggle to survive against the woman she loves, a woman more than capable of hunting her down.

Brittany Allen in “What Keeps You Alive.”

Courtesy of IFC Midnight

One of the most refreshing aspects of “What Keeps You Alive” is that the film offers a much-needed upgrade to the Final Girl trope, where one blood-soaked woman finds the inner grit to stand up and conquer against impossible odds and a deadly killer. Jules and Jackie are fully-realized characters with their own strengths and weaknesses. Jackie might be a sociopath, but she’s also a badass, and there are plenty of times in the cat-and-mouse struggle between the two women where it’s hard to pick who exactly to root for. It’s also exciting to see a lesbian horror movie that doesn’t treat the romance as a gimmick (even if things do eventually go sour).

Despite a few predictable beats, “What Keeps You Alive” offers plenty of effective jolts, helped along by the chemistry between leads Anderson and Allen. For her part, Anderson is especially terrifying as the cold and calculating Jackie, while Allen’s Jules convincingly transforms from victim to survivor, with both women battling it out and manipulating each other until the film’s successful climax. Released just a few months before the studio-produced “Halloween” reboot, “What Keeps You Alive” is a welcome look at what can happen when the Final Girl trope is allowed to evolve.

Grade: B+

“What Keeps You Alive” had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year. It hits theaters and VOD on August 24. 

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