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Jill Awbrey stars in Held.

Courtesy of Magnet Releasing

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  • Held
  • Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing
  • Written by Jill Awbrey
  • Starring Jill Awbrey and Bart Johnson
  • Classification R; 94 minutes

Held, a #MeToo-inspired horror film, opens with two scenes that quickly establish the story’s focus on gendered violence: the first depicting sexual assault, the next featuring a cab driver with prying questions.

Emma (Jill Awbrey), a middle-aged white woman, is going to a vacation home where her husband, Henry (Bart Johnson), will meet her later that day for anniversary celebrations. As the cab driver drops Emma off with a more-than-lingering handshake and she settles into the new house (and jumps at the odd sudden noise), co-directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff set the stage for a dark, twisty exploration of misogyny.

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Emma and Henry’s getaway takes a turn when a mysterious, deep and clichéd robotic voice takes over their home’s security system, essentially holding them hostage and forcing the pair into traditional gender roles.

Held tells the story of a couple held hostage by a robotic alarm system in a vacation home.

Courtesy of Magnet Releasing

Awbrey and Johnson carry the film well as the only two major characters on screen. Their relationship seems layered and complex but leaves enough to the imagination. Lofing and Cluff, meanwhile, direct most of their energy toward set design. The vacation property reflects the conceit of a contemporary couple forced to act like they’re in the 1950s; it is a modern home equipped with an advanced alarm system, but with appliances and decor (including a rotary telephone) that echo a bygone era.

The voice commanding Emma and Henry comes off as less frightening and more bizarre, particularly because its commands tend to be stereotypically sexist in an on-the-nose sort of way. Emma, for instance, has to cook Henry dinner, while Henry has to open the door for Emma. As we get used to the voice, the suspense wears off – despite a late-film twist that reveals their situation to be more sinister than we thought.

The influence of Jordan Peele’s Get Out on Held is clear; the film is scary not in its extraordinary imaginings but in the mundane familiarity that underpins those imaginings. The twist sells that idea in the end, but everything up to that point falls a little flat.

Held is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and Rogers On Demand, starting April 9

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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