Arrow Frightfest October Digital Event – Film Review – Held (2020)

This minimalist cat and mouse thriller will keep you guessing all the way until its twisted reveal.

Emma and Henry are celebrating their 9-year wedding anniversary in a swanky rental with hi-tech specs and a terrible secret. After a fractious night on the booze, they wake up the next morning in different clothes and their mobile phones missing.

A sinister voice begins transmitting intrusive instructions and triggers a hermetic lockdown of the house with blanket camera coverage. Any disobedience is followed by the painful activation of shock implants embedded deep behind one of their ears.

Robbed of all autonomy the couple must obey the spiteful directives foisted upon them in order to buy the time necessary to escape. But as the requests become more awkward and extreme our terrified guineapigs realise they must unchain their survival instincts if they are to end the physical and mental victimisation.

The directors of popular horror outing The Gallows return with a much more rounded and mature captivity picture that makes for a fascinating companion piece to this year’s other marriage under scrutiny film The Honeymoon Period. Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff keep this compact chiller chugging along with a focused urgency that leaves plenty of room for surprise shocks and absorbing tension.

Helped massively by a believable and beautifully lensed location Held boasts two equally believable leads and a screenplay that allows them to make convincing character decisions without melting down into histrionic yowling.

Rather than shovelling the topsoil of escalating melodrama into treacherous plot holes, it takes judicious care not to allow them to generate in the first place. By adopting a basal starting position and escalating with unfussy grace it is a concise expedition into mind control and social engineering that never forgets to be entertaining.

Wisely, the technological aspects are presented as ancillary to the relationship dynamics and this stops things slipping into an internet era Demon Seed ataxia. Indeed, during the surreal and sapient big reveal, they are reverse engineered to mirror the vintage motives of its architects. 

Held is a smart genre flick that is unashamed of its roots and embraces its limitations with gusto. Kinetic in execution and tangibly retro in its mindset it packs a savage Hitchcockian twist that lands with style and conviction.

It is the type of film that in simpler, less content-saturated times would have been a word of mouth spoiler sensitive sensation. Now, in this ever more complex age of circumstance, it plays out as another bleak reminder of our own forced isolation and amplified paranoia.

★★★★

Opening Film World  Premiere

Horror, Mystery, Home Invasion Thriller | USA 2020 | 94 min | Frighfest October Digital Event, Oct 21st, 2020 | Dirs. Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff | With: Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson, Rez Kempton, Zack Gold