In Held, Emma (Jill Awbrey) and Henry (Bart Johnson) are a couple whose marriage is struggling. With their anniversary approaching, the couple decide to book a romantic week away in a secluded home in an effort to kick-start their relationship. Surrounded by trees, this property is state-of-the-art, featuring a pool, high-tech gadgets and, at random, a rotary dial phone. When the phone rings, Emma becomes frightened when a voice demands that she ‘obey them’. The strange (and outdated) demands force them to conform to domestic stereotypes but any attempt at escape has consequences.
Directed by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluft, Held handles itself sleekly and effectively in its style but somehow falls short of its goal. As a home invasion thriller, the film has a unique premise that sets it apart from more recent entries into the genre. Shot almost entirely in the one home, Lofing and Cluft make good use of their surroundings to create a claustrophic atmosphere. By keeping the captor (mostly) hidden from view, Held is able to give the enemy an omniscient power that leans into the creepy atmosphere as well. What’s more, Aubry and Johnson do a fairly solid job as a couple whose relationship is torn apart yet are forced to work together to escape their captors. To its credit, the film remains (mostly) focused on what it wants to accomplish and pursues it with enthusiasm.
Embedded with social commentary, Held is very interested in exploring the nature of control, especially as it pertains to women and, for the most part, it does so quite well. Written by Awbrey, this is very much a film about the oppressive nature of traditional marriage or, more specifically, the control that can take place within it. Without giving any spoilers, the film’s ultimate goal seems to be (rightly) the celebration of freedom from an environment of toxicity. Forced to act ‘the way married couples should’, Emma and Henry’s struggles are highlighted by their captors. (What’s more, the film also makes direct ties to the abusive nature of churches who argue anything other than equality within the home.)
Constantly reminded that they must ‘obey’, the couple are forced to comply with their mysterious captor’s demands in order to mimic behaviours that are ‘supposed’ to take place within the home. Simple acts such as praising the meal prepared by the wife or the husband opening the door for her take on a terrifying tone when done so forcefully, emptying them of any love or compassion. In this way, the film does a good job of demonstrating the crushing nature of control that can take place within masculine-dominated marriages.
Ultimately though, the problem with Held lies not in it message but in its execution. Despite its suffocating atmosphere, the script almost works against the film’s effectiveness. Though the theme is kept well in view, the film never really creates the type of tension that one wants from this type of film. With outrageous circumstances and a wild twist at their disposal, somehow the air feels gets let out of the balloon. Sadly, scenes of intensity often fall flat. (To be honest, a mysterious voice demanding that Henry ‘compliment his wife’s cooking’ comes across as more humorous than frightening.)
Furthermore, Held seems to push further towards the perils of marriage itself. While Held could have focused on the harmfulness within the relationship between its two leads, it instead spins into the broader context of marriage, even suggesting that it may be an outdated institution that creates toxic environments. Instead of providing any healthy alternatives to the issues of domination, Held‘s finale (again, no spoilers) points to the institution itself as oppressive. In other words, rather than focus on toxicity within marriage, the film seems to point to the toxicity of marriage.
While the film is armed with a solid premise (and even some interesting commentary), Held unfortunately fails to deliver. While the performances work, the script simply doesn’t build the tension the way that one would hope from this particular genre. So, if you’re thinking about bringing Held into your home, you may want to let that idea go.
Held is available now in select theatres and VOD.