Emma and Henry Barrett celebrate their 9-year marriage anniversary by renting an isolated house complete with modern day automation bells and whistles. On the morning following their first night’s stay, they come to a horrifying realization someone was in the house and has displaced their clothing. As panic begins to set in and the couple try to flee, the house suddenly locks down, barring the windows and doors under the smart home controls, and a Voice commands them to obey every word in order to reveal devastating secrets and fix what’s broken in their splintered marriage by returning to antiquated ideas of a patriarchal system. Implanted with an electroshock device, Emma and Henry have no choice but to comply to every authoritative command, turning their romantic getaway into a house of wringing pawns.
Out of all of fight against misogynism and #MeToo inspired films that have been released in the last few years, Jill Awbrey’s scripted story is the most fascinating with an implausible overkill plot derived from, and this would be the scariest part, actual male frames of mind that were not systemically changed too long ago and are still ineradicably infesting a good chunk of male psyches today. The Fresno, California-shot film is entitled “Held,” a literally captivating suspense-thriller with whispers of James Wan’s “Saw” crisscrossed with, and I may get flak for this, Wes Craven’s “Scream.” “Held” is steered by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, directors of “The Gallows” and the subsequent “Act II”, with a follow up with edgy confines of a pintsize location embellished with hidden rooms and secret passageways bringing normalcy to the forefront of topsy-turvy inequity. Under Cluff and Lofing’s Tremendum Pictures banner, “Held” is also produced by the directors alongside Kyle Gentz and Cody Fletcher.
Jill Awbrey is not only the screenwriter of “Held” but also stars as the Emma Barrett, an internally traumatized woman weary of strange men asking none-of-their-business questions. Her feature film actress debut plays opposite of vet actor Bart Johnson. The television and “Simon Says” actor Johnson puts on his husband hat as Henry Barret frustrated and disheartened by Emma’s recent lack of intimate interest. All of the Henry’s resentment and Emma’s self-reproach fades away when the house comes down on top of them, literally, in a barrage of hidden spy cameras, an uncontrollable to them security system, and by an obscured voice coursing through various wall intercoms with ground rules and instructions. Before trouble finds them in the guise of a vacay rental, Awbrey and Johnson make a fairly convincing seasoned husband and wife with all the rapport familiarity trimmings; Awbrey instills a meekish quality that makes Emma reserved in not being assertive enough to help herself, a condition stemmed from a traumatic event in her past as the opening moment of “Held,” while Johnson follows Awbrey’s lead in an equally good job showing a nurturing and doting husband who wants nothing more than to take care of everything for his wife. When the panic sets in and the possibility of escape seems futile, Awbrey and Johnson have to use separate approaching methods and mindsets that become essential to “Held’s” time warp speeding male chauvinism undertones. The supporting cast is folded into “Held’s” firm two-lead narrative with precision story placement from Rez Kempton (“Stag Night of the Dead”) and Zack Gold (“Fear Lives Here”).
“Held” is a fight in hell for women who feel that there is life bares no choice in the matter, when their voice is silenced by fear, when the prospect of death is as strong as a masculine build, and when an atrocious past experience hinders personal growth. The commanding-to-demanding obedience tale freefalls from worse case scenario to the absolute worst case scenario of a clear cut redeeming need for change and to once and for all extinguish the old-fashioned binary thought of men being stronger, faster, smarter, better, and more dominate then women. Speaking of old-fashioned, Cluff and Lofing incorporate 1950s era technology, such as a tube television set, rotary phone, and computers with nobs and dials, into the vacation rentals’ futuristic hardware as a symbolizing blend of the seemingly evolved present day man being motivated and driven by antiquated thoughts. The filmmakers also work in nicely Awbrey’s misinterpretation of a Biblical paradise by parochial views by warping the fabled beginnings of man and woman for their own selfish desires. The plot point twist was uncomplicatedly easy to predict but wasn’t necessarily unwelcomed either as the turning point layered a crazy subplot involving a radical marketed and hairbrained scheme with such audacity it’s felt unbelievable. And there were a handful of select scenes that did feel unbelievable by computing more a comical reaction than a petrifying one as perhaps intended. What’s probably more even more of a quirk in “Held” is the script’s subdued dialogue that garnished with not one single obscenity, but the action, which includes multiple graphic stabbings, a self-surgery extraction, and one particular scene where Emma is choked slammed through a wall, conveys extreme intensity in a superficial imbalance with the dialogue. Underneath the tender discourse, “Held” has a crupper of brutal violence that never slips.
Those following Ephesians 5:22-24, reading wives should “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the LORD,” will find “Held” as a blasphemous counterattack of disobedience against the strong arming of a behind-the-times complementarian marriage. “Held” will be released by Magnolia Pictures as a Magnet released film, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 94 minutes. The Frightfest 2020 film is a perfect union of imperfect times and feminism fight back and director of photography, Kyle Gentz (“The Gallows Act II,” “Zombies 2”) captures it all with a bright, nearly sterile, perspective full from closed circuit voyeurism, to aerial shots of isolation, and to shaky cam with flashing lights to produce ear splitting pain effect. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The Garden of Eden has been man and woman’s place of paradise and destruction but for Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s “Held,” the battle of the sexes is more barbaric than it is biblical when Adam’s machoism stakes claim to Eve’s forbidden fruit.