This February, the month of love I take a look at some cute but killer couples. Couples who have in their respective films just have not been able to make it to the end and ride off into the sunset. The following selection of couples prove that sometimes love just ain’t enough and oftentimes you may not really know the person you’re cosying up to and calling honey…
1. What Keeps You Alive (dir. Colin Minihan, 2018)
What Keeps You Alive deals with the age-old question how much do you really know about your partner? And my God it seems that these two ladies hadn’t a notion who they married. The film begins with married couple Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Anderson) making their way to Jackie’s family lakeside home in middle of the woods. We immediately are set up for a horror here, old house, deep in the Canadian forests and hey this place is littered with guns and dead animals on the walls. Oh my the foreshadowing is real here. The couple is celebrating their one year wedding anniversary and are all ready for a relaxing romantic getaway with lots of fishing on the lake and hiking. Gotta love nature right?
But very quickly all is not as it seems. If you happened to go in blind to this film and ignore reading the premise one would be getting ready for a typical home invasion horror. The first cosy night in Jackie is on the guitar serenading Jules with a creepy song implying that she may not be all that sweet going into a trance like state while singing. Post musical number Jackie reveals how her father taught her how to hunt in these woods and how on her first kill she took down a fully grown black bear. Her father apparently disappointed in her wasteful kill informs Jackie that “we must only kill what keeps you alive” alluding to the film’s title. This rather skewed way of thinking returns later in the film. Jules is rightly freaked and changes the subject to being all cute and coupley again until a car pulls up out of nowhere and a hooded figure emerges. This is where I would have thought the home invasion begins, but alas it is an old neighbour, Sarah, who was just checking on the newly lit house. As she greets the couple Sarah calls out to Megan, addressing Jackie. This is where things begin to turn as both the audience and Jules suddenly realise that Jackie has been lying, at the very least about her name this entire time – and for their entire relationship.
“We must only kill what keeps you alive”
Over the next few days Jackie becomes increasingly distant often leaving Jules alone and without transport taking the car for hours. Jules starts to question the woman she married and what else she may hiding. A catch up with her old friend Sarah and her husband Daniel does not help ease Jules’s anxiety as it is revealed Jackie/Megan may have been involved in another old friend’s drowning back when they were kids. In the midst of processing this new information and discussing it with Jackie on a cliff walk, Jackie denies the part she played in the drowning and proceeds to push Jules from the cliff to her death. Just like that Jackie tries to kill her spouse and luckily for Jules she was unsuccessful. Jules manages to survive the fall severely injured and this is where the film truly begins, a cat and mouse game of survival between the newly married couple.
Throughout the film we have been subtly made aware of Jackie’s hunting prowess. The odds are not in Jules’s favour, but she has wits on her side and at least some basic medical knowledge which allow her to patch herself up D.I.Y style. The cat and mouse chase eventually comes to and end and Jules essentially becomes a prisoner to her wife. Jackie and Jules also must entertain Sarah and Daniel but this awkward dinner party gets a little more awkward as Jules tries to not so subtly spill the beans to Sarah on the sly. Now a nice little dinner party has been turned into a full-blown blood feast as Jackie unleashes her bubbling inner psychopath killing her dinner guests in front of the weakened Jules to her horror. Hope dashed once more. Jackie reveals that she planned to kill her for her life insurance policy ( as the money gained in the kill eventually will keep Jackie alive, perhaps taking her Dad’s advise a little too literally.)
What Keeps You Alive subverts classical heteronormative horror expectations in regards to genre and the typical gendered villain. We are led to believe that both women might face a threat from the outside but this home invasion is one that occurs from within the walls of the home and within the walls of marriage, which is in itself is a separate betrayal. Jackie being female and stereotypically more feminine compared to her partner Jules deceives the audience and their expectations as to what a killer looks like. Similarly Jules as our Final Girl again strays from type she appears far more feeble, forever in a state of disbelief and trying to make Jackie see sense rather than giving it a proper go at escaping. The film creates a great sense of tension and suspense, especially during the forest and lake sequences of the great chase. However there are some slightly irritating plot holes, many times where Jules seemed to have been able to escape easily. But then again that could have been an intentional subversion as Jules is also the Final Girl but also a bit of a cat herself in this game. After managing to escape she seems home and free but cannot shake Jackie getting away with it all. Her previous medical knowledge comes into play and a plan begins to form, luring Jackie back into a trap the two do battle off-screen which results in an unconscious Jules being dragged back to the same cliff edge as before and being tossed again by her wife, a seemingly victorious Jackie. But as the film comes to its conclusion it is revealed that Jules was playing the long game herself and in the end both ladies, both partners met their maker by the others hand. I cannot help but think all this could have been avoided if they held off on getting married so soon? Good gore scenes, interesting concept, characters sometimes a bit plain but overall a pretty good watch.
What Keeps You Alive is available on Netflix. Rating : 2.5/4
2. Honeymoon (dir. Leigh Janiak, 2014)
Honeymoon as the title suggests follows two newlyweds embarking on their honeymoon. Starring Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway as Bea and Paul respectively. It is a similar setting to What Keeps You Alive, again a childhood lakeside home. These newlyweds are beyond cringe, going full tilt for the gold at perhaps being the most annoying couple I have seen on-screen in a long time. The film begins with a found footage style camcorder type introduction to our two protagonists, we get an insight into their first date, the carefree nature of their wedding plans and their incessant P.D.A. Everything seems to be going splendidly for our cute couple, they make French toast, go on long walks, head out on a boat and my god are they raunchy constantly at it like rabbits. So yes the honeymoon is going well.
“Before I was alone, but now I’m not.”
But there is a mysterious outside light that filters in through the windows scanning the house each night, eventually it lands on Bea waking her up and luring her into the forest in a trance like state. Paul wakes up to find Bea missing and begins to search for her, he finds her outside bruised, naked and with no recollection as to why she ventured out in the first place. Paul is clearly distressed but they both just chalk it up to sleepwalking. The next morning Bea seems to be having trouble remembering how to make French toast and coffee, her speech is sometimes in broken English and she cannot remember the little details about herself and even Paul. Something is just off with her after her trip to the woods and Paul bounces between freaked out and frustrated. Most importantly sex has just gone out the window, every time Paul tries to initiate it he is rebuffed and boy does his ego take it badly. Bea just never seems to be in the mood anymore and provides vague reasons as to why she does not want to (I mean maybe a gal just wants some peace and quiet Paul after days of doing it?).
Out on a walk the couple met Bea’s old childhood crush and his wife who seems to be suffering from some sort of personality disorder. Paul’s already bruised ego, is now coupled with an unhealthy dose of jealousy. From then on by restricting the two characters to the cabin creates a claustrophobic setting where the once lustful relationship is now plagued with suspicion at every tiny move. Paul’s paranoia grows as he spies Bea talking to herself in the mirror, reminding herself to act like herself. As the film reaches its climax Bea’s body begins to change her skin is shedding and she realises that there’s something inside that must come out. Cue gross and gory scene of Paul ripping a foreign worm like object from inside Bea’s nether regions, I bet nobody told that them marriage would be like this. There are forces at work here that have changed the pair of them not for the better. Bea is in ways performing herself whoever or whatever has taken over her body is desperately trying to remain in faux marital bliss, while Paul realising that there has been a shift in the relationship repeatedly tries to leave this honeymoon nest and breaking the illusion. In the end Bea fearing an unknown being who wants to separate Paul from Bea and continue to use her as vessel. Bea decides to ‘hide’ Paul from their gaze, by throwing him over the side of the boat tied to a large rock to keep him safe under the water. Wonderful.
Overall it was an enjoyable watch while the ending is a tad disappointing the rest of the film manages to do quite well using elements of both supernatural and psychological horror that successfully manages to build tension scene by scene. The premise is definitely inspired by the Invaders of the Body Snatchers but the subtleness of the dissolution of a sexual relationship into at least a different stage of the relationship is extremely well done. The film delves deep into the idea of what happens when the honeymoon period is disrupted on the honeymoon. It highlights the horror of the breaking of the glass ceiling i.e first fight as a married couple or the first time you start living together and how the little things that you used to love so much now start to dare I say irritate you?
Honeymoon is available on Shudder. Rating: 3/4
Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017)
In response to the highly anticipated Shudder documentary History Noire which examines the long and complex history of black people in horror, I decided to revisit Peele’s brilliant Get Out which is centered around how black people and more precisely black bodies are viewed as objects to be obtained in a white world. The film starts by introducing protagonist Chris ( Daniel Kaluuya) packing for a weekend away to met girlfriend’s parents. See Chris is black and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) is white, Rose in regards to how others view their relationship is colour blind. She doesn’t care about what colour they are and knows without question her parents will act the same. While on the road she appears to prove herself as worthy girlfriend and ally to Chris as she questions a cop’s motives asking to see Chris’s drivers licence. This is the kinda ridicule and suspicion Chris is used to being met with in relation to white people.
“All I know is sometimes, if there’s too many white folks, I get nervous, you know.”
At the start of the film, the couple joke about the dreaded phase of meeting the parents and how her parents may seem nervous as not to say anything offensive but they will of course love Chris as she does. Once they arrive at the rich ass suburbs, introductions go off without a hitch everything is very nice and very polite. Almost too polite. Enter lots of painfully long smiles and hugs, everything seems moderately normal except for the strange presence of the two live in employees, who at best are a bit off and oh yes also black. This dynamic is starting to feel very familiar. As the weekend kicks off you best believe there is a lot of nervous energy floating in the air, a lot of watching what you say kinda vibes and lots of “hey I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could”. The film is set up as a Look Who’s Coming To Dinner scenario but slowly turns out that the dinner party hosts have more in common with Texas Chainsaw clan than the classic Tracey and Hepburn duo. Rose’s parents are pretty odd straight off the bat, oozing with nervous tension and go out of their way to say they definitely do not have a problem with Chris’s blackness but throughout the day the it seems to be the only thing that keeps cropping up. ‘Black approved’ conversations swirl around Chris with subjects such as Obama and Jesse Owens the fact these conversations are being had at all are beyond uncomfortable. Would these people be brought up as small talk with a white boyfriend? Most likely a whopping no. Following on from this uncomfortable introduction we get Rose’s Dad, Dean an excellently cast Bradley Whitford, explaining away the background story and presence of the other two black characters. He is aware of how it looks bad, the only black people around for miles in a serving role but rest assured Dean says it’s really not like that and hey you know what it is much much worse.
“Fair skin has been in favour for, what, the past hundreds of years. But, now the pendulum has swung back. Black is in fashion!”
The first night of Chris’s stay hints that all is not right in the rich suburbs, Chris finds himself hypnotised by Rose’s mother and boy it is disturbing. Peele introduces us to ‘the sunken place’ a concept which he says acts as a symbol for the marginalised, presented as a dark space that renders the marginalised figure disembodied, unable to scream or use their voice. Thereby silenced by the system in place. This is basically the entire film Chris must get out of the sunken place in order to maintain his autonomy in this elite white world. Later it is revealed that Rose is no ally, see her and her family are involved in a secret order that not only covets black bodies but harvests them too , auditioning them off to the highest bidder to undergo surgery merging the two minds in one body leaving the black victim a passenger within their own body. Turns out Rose has been very good at luring both men and women to their sunken place. Final girl my ass. While Chris wises up to her shenanigans in the nick of time, Get Out proves once again you should always listen to your best friend, and perhaps invest in a portable charger?
One of the best parts of Get Out is how aware of itself it is, it is aware that the very presence of black characters in horror usually means things are not looking good for them, it’s aware of the final girl and turns us against the one person who is meant to be ‘safe’ the one we are programmed to assume will survive all of this is subverted as Chris is our Final boy. Characters are always hyper alert to how they themselves are perceived, and hey if you’re a paranoid person like Chris who from the start was a little apprehensive about meeting the folks and who admits he gets nervous around lots of white people proves that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not after you. Peele has created a sublime film, a horror comedy that not only acts a social commentary on race but one that breaks the mould in the horror genre with its use of representation and breaking generic expectations. The story is one of the most original horrors I’ve seen in a good while and this is one that gets better with repeated viewings. Similiarly to the other films in the list it highlights that maybe meeting the parents after five months is a little soon, give it say seven to wait and see if anything alarming crops up.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is available on Shudder.
Get Out: Rating 4/4