Review by Sean Boelman
High-concept, socially-conscious horror often leads to some of the most successful examples of the genre — just look at the massive hit that was Get Out — but a filmmaker has to know what they are doing in order to pull it off. Unfortunately for Held, the script reveals its hand too late, resulting in a message that gets muddled behind an otherwise subpar thriller.
The film follows a couple whose marriage is tested when they get held hostage by an unseen voice giving them increasingly sinister commands. Like a mix of a home invasion thriller and torture porn horror, the movie fails to bring to the table the suspense or extreme gore that makes those respective genres tick, causing the first half of the film to struggle.
When the movie reaches its big twist around the midway point, it becomes something much more interesting. However, this change comes too little too late, a metaphorical cup of originality to compensate for the wildfire of mediocrity that came before it. Had there been more suspense building up to this big reveal, it definitely could have been more effective.
It becomes abundantly clear in the final act of the film there is a feminist and anti-patriarchal message, and while this is undeniably well-intentioned, it is executed poorly. The script by Jill Awbrey isn’t able to find that perfect balance between realism and excess to make the satire effective.
Additionally, the character development in the movie is lacking. Much of the first half of the film is spent trying to get the audience to care about the relationship between the two characters, and it doesn’t succeed. At the bare minimum, we should at least be able to get fully behind the female protagonist, and that isn’t even the case.
Awbrey also plays the lead in the movie in addition to her duties as a writer, and her turn is entirely unexceptional. It is a very reactive performance, something which doesn’t seem fit to the material, particularly during the second half. Bart Johnson is slightly better, although no more believable, as her husband.
The film also leaves something to be desired visually. There are some cool images in the final act tied to world-building, but for a majority of the movie, there isn’t much of a world to build. As such, it’s a rather plain thriller set in a sleek house, and viewers will be left waiting for something gnarly that doesn’t come.
Held has a lot of potential, but the filmmakers are unable to salvage the great concept from a poorly-developed screenplay. As a result, this ends up in the B-movie pile rather than the art house where it should belong.
Held hits theaters and VOD on April 9.