Excellent acting, a controlled visual style and a few shocking twists put writer-director Colin Minihan’s “What Keeps You Alive” in good company with his previous expectation-subverting indie films “Extraterrestrial” and “It Stains the Sands Red.” Be warned, though: This is the kind of movie where even knowing the genre might be considered a spoiler.
Brittany Allen stars as Jules, who takes an anniversary trip to her wife Jackie’s family cabin, where the latter (played by Hannah Emily Anderson) starts behaving like a different person: cold and psychopathic. Before Jules can fully register that something’s changed, she’s fleeing through the woods, trying to escape death at the hands of the woman she loves.
Allen and Anderson are outstanding in roles that require a lot of levels and moods, as the central relationship goes from loving to shaky to … well, something else. In the movie’s nail-biting centerpiece sequence, the couple has dinner with friends after everything’s started to go south, and it’s both utterly absorbing and almost unbearably tense to watch and wait for one of these ladies to erupt.
In the interest of keeping viewers guessing, Minihan doesn’t fully explain what’s happening, which means that the choices that Jules and Jackie make sometimes seem sudden or unmotivated.
But the horror/suspense elements — while strong — are secondary to a study of romantic vulnerability and broken trust. This is ultimately a movie about how a bad breakup can sometimes feel like an attempted murder.
‘What Keeps You Alive’
Rated: R, for violence including bloody images, language, and brief nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes