New Thriller ‘Held’ Adds a Welcomed Twist to the Home Invasion Genre
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When was the last time you were locked in your house, or any house, with no means of escape while a home invader terrorizes you and your loved ones/friends/lovers, etc.? Never, right? But you’d think there’s an epidemic of this sort of thing happening with the home invasion thriller subgenre that has roots back to the 1960s — Wait Until Dark (1967) and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968; a zombie classic that takes place for a long stretch in a farmhouse) — on through the more high-tech iterations in the 2000s — Don’t Breathe (2016; teenage thieves are hunted by a blind psychopath in his booby-trapped dilapidated Victorian); The Strangers (2008; creeps in masks stalk rural couple over the course of a single night); and the modern classic The Cabin in the Woods (2012; friends off for a long weekend are manipulated by unseen technicians). Add to that Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s just released Held, which falls in the home invasion subgenre but with a nifty twist.
According to co-director Cluff, “It’s about a couple that get trapped in, like, an Airbnb vacation rental. They have kind of an ailing marriage, things aren’t going so well in their relationship. And then they get trapped in this home, and this voice that talks to them starts telling them what to do in order to fix their marriage. It starts from assigning them roles, if you will. It’s forcing them into really tense and suspenseful situations.”
Written by Jill Awbrey, who stars as Emma Barrett, Held begins with some pro forma establishing scenes. Emma arrives via Uber (by her chatty driver, Joe) to a modern fortress of a house nestled in a grotto of trees. Her overworked zaddy of a husband, Henry (Bart Johnson), comes later for a weekend intended to help the ailing couple rekindle their relationship.
The house is a high-tech security building; it’s airtight. The couple relax with a nice pre-bedtime glass of wine that knocks them out when a stranger in BDSM gear enters their bedroom and implants a device behind their right ears.
It doesn’t take long once they wake up the next day before the Barretts realize they are not alone in this house.
A disembodied voice, altered by technology, begins to order the couple around. At first, these requests are banal — Henry is instructed by the intruder to open the door for his wife; Emma, who seems high-strung and distracted, is reminded that she should make dinner for her husband, etc. In short order, they discover that if they disobey, one or the other will be shocked (hence the implanted device). As the couple tries to make sense of what is going on — and how it is that this interloper knows so much about their personal lives — the demands, which fall in line around stereotypical gender roles, grow more pointed and reductive. It’s as if Alexa has been highjacked by a masochistic marriage counselor.
There’s plenty of thrills and a fair amount of blood-and-guts here, but the focus is on the disintegration of a marriage. It doesn’t upend the standard thriller tropes fully — genre is malleable, though not completely destructible — but it has a leg up on less inventive iterations of the home invasion subspecies. The couple is under siege, yet Held is mostly about Emma’s journey to emancipation.
The two leads are good. Johnson’s Henry is a soulful side of beef who just wants to reconnect with his wife. Awbrey’s Emma is more complicated, trying to reconcile her recent affair with her fading love for her husband. He only needs to relearn how to be attentive; she has to atone for her sins. That’s a game rigged by men. When it dawns on her that there is more than one intruder in this freaky Airbnb, the gloves come off. It’s every man and woman for themselves.
The slow unveiling of the puppet masters behind the invasion is a doozy right up there with Get Out. Crazy as it seems, in a world where white men are raging against their reduced status in society, it’s not completely far-fetched. Unbelievable, maybe, but not out of the range of possibility.
The latest entry in the home invasion thriller subgenre, Held, directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, is in theaters and on demand today.
Photos courtesy of Magnet Releasing