MOVIE REVIEW: Held (2020)
Think of someone held in a space they can’t leave; if they do they will be punished. A deep, electronically-altered voice tells them to OBEY, and they have to follow certain rules with the promise they will be released if they just do what they are told. Sound familiar? If you add in a group of people brought together, and extremely graphic torture set-pieces through traps in a game of wits, you have ‘Saw’ and the plethora of films that came alongside the sequels in that franchise: ‘You’re Next’, ‘The Collector’, and a million other films on a sliding scale. It became tired and clichéd. Now comes a film that feels like an old fashioned thriller, or at least that’s the guise it wears, mixing in the morality play that ‘Saw’ set forth. Except, this time, the moral conditioning is set around marriage alone. The graphic gore is left out, except for one admittedly cringe-worthy scene with a bit of self-surgery, performed by house key. Yuck.
We begin with a woman who, in the opening scene, appears to be a teenager and has been held against her will. The viewer is to presume, from the set up, that she has been raped by someone she thought she could trust. Skip to years later, and we can see in her personality that this has affected her well into adult life. The protagonist prepares for a night on her own, thinking her husband is turning up the next day, but he appears early. They have rented out a rather plush holiday home to celebrate their anniversary. Clearly, right from the start, they are struggling as a couple.
Then things get weird. Waking from an alcohol-induced sleep, things seem off. Their phones are not where they left them, there are coffees and a card waiting next to the bed. Then the keys to the car disappear.
We move through the motions as the Voice booms out instructions about how a marriage should be played out, how a happy couple should behave. They are punished if they try to escape. It’s like a rat in a scientific study; a painful buzz that goes off to keep the pair in line. Infidelity and the status quo are discussed, and brought to the fore.
All very well, you may think. The film has been unreleased for two years since it was finished, and there may well be a reason for that. Yes, but not that reason! The central premise is muddied along its path, and to enjoy this kind of thriller you have to enjoy the performances of the two main characters, especially the female side. And this leads to the twist, the big reveal. This reviewer guessed it quicker than any other film he has seen, painfully so. A trigger went off and this thought came screaming - that’s the villain of the piece! It was like the painful buzzer that goes off every time someone does not OBEY in the film itself.
Throw in a late attempt at satire, and a sour commentary on feminism that falls flat on its face as it doesn’t seem to know which side it is attacking or defending, and it’s all a bit of a chore to get through. Watch the recent ‘Invisible Man’ film for a strikingly similar subject, and see how it can be tackled, deftly and with skill.
A better title would have been ‘Love, Honour and OBEY’.