I enjoy a good cat and mouse game, wherein the cat is a sociopath and the mouse is the victim I’m rooting for to prevail. With 2018’s, What Keeps You Alive on Netflix, the “cat” is one of the most creepy, formidable and scary sociopaths I’ve seen in a modern horror film.
The film follows Jackie (played by Hannah Anderson) and Jules (played by Brittany Allen), who go to a remote cabin to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary. I’m going to stop right there: That’s all I knew about the plot going into the film. As the film begins and we see them approaching this remote cabin, I’m thinking, well, isn’t this a familiar set-up for a horror film? And I’m thinking the threat to them is going to be external.
Later that night, one of Jackie’s childhood friends, Sarah (played by Martha Macisaac) arrives unexpectedly. I’m thinking she is going to be that external threat. But then something weird happens: She calls Jackie … Megan. Odd, but okay. This upsets Jules until “Jackie” gives her a locket of them together.
Then, in a great foreshadowing scene, Jules rows her boat across the lake to Sarah (and her husband’s) house. Sarah tells Jules that a third mutual friend of theirs, Jenny, was killed in a an apparent accidental drowning. More red flags are popping up. Yet again, Jules confronts Jackie about this past event she didn’t know anything about. Yet again, Jackie is able to talk her way out of Jules’ sadness and concern.
When Jules goes to admire the view from the top of a cliff, it’s like the mouse walked right into the cat’s preordained trap: In a shocking moment I was sure had to be a dream, Jackie shoves Jules right off the cliff. I did not expect that! I thought we were going to get more of this sort of gaslighting psychological warfare from Jackie to Jules, not outright sociopath behavior! Not a brazen push! Not to mention, it was early on in the film, so if she dies, now what?
Well, the answer to that came quickly, Jules didn’t die as Jackie planned. We see Jackie in her fully fleshed out sociopathic glory when she practices her 9-1-1 call about her wife “accidentally” falling off the cliff and then when she realizes Jules is still alive, her switch on a dime from, “Come on, baby, we can make this right,” to her straight-faced, I’m-going-to-gut-you-like-a-fish face. It’s creepy as all heck! And a tremendous, tremendous showcase from Hannah Anderson.
Jules is able to eventually get back to the cabin while Jackie is out hunting for her and uses the first aid kit. From here on out, though, I thought Jules was a pretty dumb character! Her next move is to try to row out to Sarah’s house again, but that doesn’t work, as she’s stopped mid-way there by Jackie. Then, she’s able to shout out to Sarah’s husband to change the dinner date to that night instead of the next night, so Jackie can’t kill her yet. That was smart. But then she’s dumb during the dinner when all four are together. Instead of telling Sarah and the husband at the same time, she whispers it to Sarah, which allows Jackie to blitz the husband, killing him and then kill Sarah.
However, that does bring about yet another masterful, creepy moment when after brutally killing the husband and butchering Sarah, Jackie comes back down and checks Jules’ heartrate: It’s racing. She then makes Jules check her’s: Steady. Then, in one of the most stylish moments of a horror film I’ve ever seen, so kudos to director (and writer) Colin Minihan, Jackie is playing Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata,” on the piano while we see shots of her in black light cleaning up the blood. It’s gorgeous in the most macabre way. Haunting.
She also taunts Jules with how her emotions get in the way and as a sociopath, it’s better and more liberating to not feel anything.
Continuing to be terrifying and creepy, the next morning, Jackie tells Jules to eat breakfast just in case an autopsy is done, she doesn’t want her stomach empty to arouse suspicion. Insert blushed face emoji here.
We also learn that there’s been half a dozen other lockets Jackie has kept as trophies after killing previous wives. She also killed her childhood friend. Apparently, the motive is money in the life insurance payout, but I don’t buy that. Jackie enjoys killing and getting away with it. Money is secondary.
On the way back to the original plan of shoving Jules off of a cliff in an “accident,” Jules manages to stab Jackie with a tranquillizer dart. But again, instead of being smart and getting the heck out of there, she leaves and then circles back to finish Jackie off. If you were going to finish her off, do it in the moment! Now, it’s back to a cat and mouse game, although this time, Jules is the one trying to find Jackie.
Jules does manage to get the upper-hand by coming behind Jackie with a gun. Yet again though, Jackie is able to talk the dummy into not being confident enough to shoot the gun. Jackie gets the upper-hand, takes her back to the cliff and shoves her off, presumably killing her.
During the period when Jules couldn’t find Jackie, we learn she made a video explaining to Jackie that she messed with her insulin: She put hydrogen peroxide in it. She goes into the woods and dies of a stroke.
So, at least the villain did get her comeuppance, I’ll take that. Then, in a totally unnecessary tease, the last image we see is of Jules’ presumably dead body at the bottom of the cliff drop and then we hear an intake of breath. Come on, don’t imply she survived two deadly falls!
Even though Jules irritated me in spots, the Jackie character and the performance by Hannah Anderson, along with the strokes of macabre style by Colin Minihan, made this a must-see, unforgettable horror film. I highly recommend it.