review by Diablo Joe for Screamfest 2020
Emma arrives at the vacation home rented by her husband, Henry, for their 9th anniversary. Secluded away from any distractions, the house is the opposite of a quaint cabin in the woods. It is massive, modern, with every amenity imaginable, and a state-of-the-art security system.
When roses show up at the door, Emma believes them to be a present from her husband, due in the next evening. When Henry arrives a few hours later, she is doubly surprised. But these are nothing compared to her shock when the two awaken the following day. Quaint floral dresses and suits have replaced their wardrobe. More frightening is the mysterious voice dictating their behavior and declaring that “disobedience has consequences.”
They are being watched and controlled, and the security system seemingly designed to keep intruders out is, instead, keeping them in.
“Held” is an exciting twist on so many home invasion films. “Ils” (Them), “The Strangers,” “Panic Room,” and even “The Purge” all share some of the DNA of this film, but “Held” is very much its own creature. This is no random scenario. Their captor or captors seem to know everything about them. Everything. Including their secrets. The two are pushed uncomfortably into a grotesque parody of the perfect marriage–a twisted Ozzie and Harriet drama–and those secrets begin to take a dark and dangerous turn. Any resistance that Emma and Henry make is met with piercing pain via electronic implants placed behind their ears.
After all, “disobedience has consequences.”
Co-directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing keep “Held” fast-paced and suspenseful. It has moments of both discomfort (a forced sexual encounter, even between husband and wife, becomes particularly disturbing) and pulse-pounding action. There are some genuine jolts, aided by a startling and effective use of sound. The screenplay is by actor/star Jill Awbrey. It is smart, clever, and manages to make a statement about our current society without ever becoming preachy or distracting from the excitement.
In Emma, Awbrey has created for herself an intelligent, resourceful, but vulnerable character. It is a role that showcases her talent well. Similarly, Bart Johnson brings the right amount of stubborn smarts to Henry. The couple is realistically flawed–both very believable characters placed in an incredible scenario. For much of “Held,” the film is a duet, and the two actors work seamlessly together to its credit.
Some viewers may see a few of the plot developments coming, but “Held” succeeds because it is so well-crafted, has a great cast, hits all the right targets, and keeps the audience engaged, on its toes, and excited to see the film through to its brutal end.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Held” 4 out of 5 imps