Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson, Rez Kempton, Zack Gold, Jener Dasilva, Tessa Munro, Ryan Shoos, Christian Telesmar, Porchea Carroll, Liz Fenning, Paul Mischeshin
Written by: Jill Awbrey
Directed by: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 94
Date: 04/09/2021

Held (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Wedlocked In

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This trapped-in-a-house horror/thriller starts off well, with genuine suspense and strong characters, but it becomes derailed after a sudden turn, leaving its major theme disappointingly unexplored.

Emma Barrett (Jill Awbrey) and her husband Henry (Bart Johnson) decide to take a weekend getaway in a rental home to help their struggling marriage. Emma arrives first and opens some wine. Henry arrives earlier than expected, and the two spend a pleasant evening, ending it with some whisky that makes them very sleepy.

In the morning, however, they find that their clothes are gone, replaced by other clothes, and the house is locked tight. They're trapped. Worse, a strange, robotic voice begins giving them commands, such as "open the door for your wife" and "cook dinner for your husband." If they disobey, electric charges embedded under their skin causes great pain. Who is their mysterious captor, and can they escape alive?

Written by performer Awbrey — who makes her feature debut on both counts — Held launches with what seems like a genuine married relationship, filled with familiarities and tensions. And the horrific situation is a genuine threat, spied on by cameras, unnerved by the loud, sudden jabs of the commanding robotic voice, and the constant threat of pain. It's a strong puzzle, populated by characters we care about, and not just the usual "types" that shout at one another.

Coming at around the two-thirds mark, the plot turn is better left unmentioned, but it involves a promotional video, accidentally discovered on someone's computer. The video is jokey, almost a parody that could have been done by SNL or Funny or Die, and its dark humor clashes with what the movie has already accomplished, and cheapens it. And, by extension, the events that come after feel false as well.

What could have been a wise, cutting attack on supposed male dominance in society (something like Promising Young Woman), becomes instead a second-tier thriller that goes for cheap shocks and cheap thrills. Held could have grabbed us, but instead it lets go.

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