Movie Review: “Held” (2021)


I love a good mystery. Even if a movie itself is not within the mystery genre, if I get something to puzzle over as the story unfolds, I’m in. My concern—anyone’s concern—is that the solution to the mystery won’t be worth the effort, and that becomes one of the big things I watch for in the movie. I may have been in, but as we progress, am I out again?

When you have a movie that is as wrapped up in its mystery as “Held,” the new movie from directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff, the quality of the mystery does indeed become the chief concern. Fortunately, the reveal for “Held” makes it all worth it.

Starring Jill Awbrey (who also wrote the film) and Bart Johnson, things here begin as a simple enough tale. There’s a couple, Emma (Awbrey) and Henry (Johnson), who have rented a luxury smart home in the middle of nowhere for the weekend. It’s their anniversary, things have gone a little stale between the two, and there’s some hope of finding that old spark once more. Then they get drugged and locked inside the house. The two are chipped so that can be shocked if they disobey a disembodied voice coming from speakers in every room. After that they’re just made to be a couple and treat each other with respect.

It is a weird beginning to be sure, and one has to add into it a scene before the movie proper where a young woman is raped while in the back of a car. How does it all tie together? We sit and watch and wonder.

One of the great things about “Held” is that Emma and Henry’s situation is instantly pretty dire and the way it all unfolds works logically from there. Many films will try and cheat their way out of a mystery, particularly one with such hard and fast rules—cameras everywhere, doors and windows locked, disobeying gets you shocked—but not “Held.” The characters may not approach particular moments in the way I would, but they approach them in a way that feels real and natural for them.

There is, it must be noted, a certain stiffness to some of the line deliveries, but by and large, the tale of Emma and Henry is engrossing. We know that there are going to be skeletons coming out of closets as the movie proceeds, but we don’t always know where and we certainly have trouble seeing the larger picture even if some of the outlines can be sensed. Lofing and Cluff dole out the pieces bit by bit, keeping the audience involved as that picture comes into focus.

Awbrey’s script combined with the direction keeps the entire affair minimalistic. We hear of other people but don’t always know their relation to the couple. The house is fancy, but we only get a few rooms. The rules for our characters once they are captives are easy (pretty much just “obey”). It’s tight, but finds a way to stick within that frame and works because of it.

It is undeniable that “Held” offers up a series of elements we’ve all seen before: people are trapped in a house, there’s a traumatic experience in someone’s past, there’s tension in the present for the people, there’s a disembodied voice, the characters are made to play a game. These elements, however, have been reconfigured here to form a new and different solution. The sense that provides is that we’re watching a film made by people with both a true affection for the genre and no small amount of smarts.

This is a movie that knows exactly what it is and exactly what it’s going for and succeeds because of it. It’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the barest description of “Held” make it clear if it’s for you. And, if it is the kind of thing you seek out, it’s absolutely going to be something you enjoy.

photo credit: Magnet Releasing



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