Review: Generic home invasion thriller 'Held' comes with a twist
Courtesy of Magnet
Equal parts “Vacancy” meets “The Strangers,” Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s home invasion slasher “Held” takes a generic premise and spices it up with an engaging twist, salvaging an otherwise poorly acted venture into a tangible piece of mindless entertainment. Focusing a good portion of its energy on gender politics, “Held” finds married couple, Emma (Jill Awbrey) and Henry (Bart Johnson) reconnecting on a quiet, intimate, anniversary weekend getaway. Though it takes time to unravel any deep secrets, you can sense animosity from the opening frame with this mini-vacation appearing as a last ditch effort to save a failing marriage.
All seems peachy the first night, they split a bottle of wine, have a nice dinner, and go to sleep only to awaken in the Air BnB from hell. Windows are locked, sensors are triggered, and a loud, anonymous voice is blaring strange demands over the security system “Belko Experiment'' style, threatening to detonate an implanted microchip if said objectives are not met swiftly. The captor forces Emma and Henry to perform an array of tasks and challenges to signal their love for one another: holding the door, preparing a meal, and talking about feelings. It’s like if Jigsaw grew up to be a couple’s therapist.
Cluff and Lofing - who directed the haunted-school clunker “The Gallows” - along with production designer Max Martinez create a palpable sense of paranoia within the claustrophobic walls. There’s a heightened sense of awareness because that fear of being watched steadily builds momentum as the tasks grow more deadly. Written by Awbrey, “Held” is the rare thriller where the last-second twist doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick, but an earned accomplishment. A welcome surprise considering the first 45-minutes are horrendously paced and the stale performances sour the initial framework.
Johnson - who will forever be known as Troy’s dad from “High School Musical'' - and his inherent lack of chemistry with Awbrey (maybe that was deliberate) creates a strange feeling as the pair maneuver through a string of deadly traps and mental mind games. Still, the final thirty minutes cook up a timely resonance and though some might guess what’s coming, the ambition is notable even if the final product isn’t.
Magnet Releasing will release HELD in theaters and on demand April 9th, 2021