2018 Film Festival – Day Two – WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE
Day two of the Milwaukee Film Festival was a juggling act of following an exciting win by the Milwaukee Brewers in game six of the National League Championship Series, following the Milwaukee Bucks making their regular season debut in the Fiserv Forum, and attending the Milwaukee Film Festival after a long week. I opted for a trip to the Times Cinema with the Cinema Hooligante program showing WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE.
For the most part, it was a wise choice. WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE is a cat and mouse thriller following a married couple at an isolated north woods cabin where it turns out one of the couple is a sociopath aiming to knock off the other. It’s a familiar tale, but one that works. Especially when given a contemporary spin. In the case of WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE the distinguishing characteristic is that writer-director Colin Minihan went with a lesbian couple as the married leads.
Allegedly, WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE was going to have a man-woman set of leads and all that changed was the name. Regardless of how it arrived at that conclusion, WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE is notable in that a married lesbian couple doesn’t draw any comment at all. That’s certainly a marker of how far society has changed in a relatively short amount of time. The film goes even farther in not sticking to visual stereotypes. The butch lead is clearly the physically weaker and less dominant of the two, for instance. In throwing out all stereotypes it calls into question all of our assumptions. That makes WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE ever interesting as a sociology window.
Unfortunately, as a vehicle for delivering genre thrills, WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE never ascends those heights. The film doesn’t really the handle of the introduction of characters very well, with Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) falling into these ominous private states early and Jules (Brittany Allen) seems to jump to conclusions about the fact that Jackie never told her everything about her prior life. We never really see them as a normal couple for long which kind of removes the surprise turn. Along with Chekhov’s gun an Chekhov’s insulin shots making early, not so subtle, appearances there’s not much for surprises once it really gets going. And, although a couple of shots resemble EVIL DEAD, it’s hard to really point out a particularly striking sequence. And a lot of time The film is certainly well made, but there’s no particular stroke of genre inspiration beyond the sociological angle.
Fortunately, the two leads are always worth watching on the screen. They keep the film going despite some leaps in logic. And the north woods lake setting is gorgeous. WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE is a competent film as entertainment, but you’re going to have to bring something to the table if you want more than that. As a cultural marker, it’s significant and interesting, but as a thriller you’ve seen these thrills before.
WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE is playing twice more at the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival. It next screens on Friday, October 26th at 11 pm at the Oriental Theatre with a final screening on Wednesday, October 31st at 8:30 pm at the Avalon Theater. The 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from October 18, 2018 to November 1, 2018. Information and tickets can be found at Milwaukee Film’s website mkefilm.org.