Held (CREDIT: Magnet Releasing)

Starring: Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson

Directors: Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But This is R Territory for Bloody Bodies and Bloody Profanity

Release Date: April 9, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

The two main characters of Held are held captive, and I daresay this movie would like our attention to be held as well. So was my attention indeed held for an hour and a half? I’m going to have to be honest with everyone here… it was! It helps that everything starts out simply enough: husband and wife Henry and Emma (Bart Johnson and Jill Awbrey, the latter of whom also wrote the script) haven’t been feeling too romantic lately, so they decide to spend a few days away at a rental house. Now, this premise doesn’t necessarily have me jumping out of my seat, as it’s a little more angsty than I’m typically in the mood for. But I’m happy to be on board, if for no other reason than Awbrey’s striking resemblance to Liz Cackowski. That latter name may not mean a lot to too many people, but if you’re like me and you love shows such as Community and Speechless, you’ll find yourself going, “Hey, that lead character looks a lot like someone who’s guest-starred on some of my favorite sitcoms!”

Co-directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff wisely upend any sense of stability almost immediately, as we soon discover that some all-seeing mastermind with a voice modulator has hacked into the house’s smart devices and is keeping Emma and Henry all locked up until they complete a gauntlet of psychological manipulation. The unseen villain is so outrageously evil that it’s a little hard to believe that this couple could in any way be deserving of this torture. But that’s part of the fun of a nasty little genre piece like this one. The commitment to the bit (the bit here being “false imprisonment”) is so thorough that I just cannot help but be impressed by all the metaphorical mustache-twirling.

Eventually there is an explanation for why Emma and Henry are being targeted, and I won’t reveal that here, because the social contract of reviews of mysterious movies assures us that twists are to remain unspoken. But suffice it to say that the revelation gives way to some satisfyingly sizzling takes about what’s going in our world today and how married men and women have related to each other over the years. As a tease, let me just say that there’s nothing quite like a genre pic leaning hard into awful stereotypes. Weirdly enough, Held is kind of like the gender politics version of what Antebellum was trying to be, and that’s something to be excited about.

Held is Recommended If You Like: Funny Games, The Dharma Initiative tapes on Lost, Mad Men

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Commands