Emma Barrett (Jill Awbrey, who also scripted) arrives at an isolated, luxurious, ominously smart house for a weekend break – soon to be joined by her slightly boorish husband Henry (Bart Johnson). However, something doesn’t sit right about the house – and when a whisky night-cap turns out to be drugged, a figure in a gimp suit creeps out to perform disturbing procedures, dressing Emma in a frillier night-gown and implanting devices in the couple’s heads that give them pain if they don’t obey commands relayed over an intercom.
Held, directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, fits in with a blip of recent films, conceived and shot pre-lockdown, in which couples are penned up together and find marriages tested by bizarre, horribly purposeful experiments – Vivarium, The Honeymoon Phase, even The Invisible Man. Revelations are doled out evenly, and the shadow of an incident glimpsed in a prologue that has affected Emma’s whole life is evoked – it’s obvious from the disconnect between the Barretts in their pre-ordeal scenes that their marriage has problems, but they are exacerbated by the sinister taskmaster who sets out to instil in them the values and manners of a Stepford version of 1950s marriage.
Though guilt is evenly portioned for most of the film, it’s plainly skewed to the viewpoint of Emma, whom we meet first, but there are still twists … as a third character is added to the mix (a fourth, counting the mastermind) and the business of attempts to escape and get round the system give way to more full-on confrontations. Of course, post-lockdown all these confinement narratives take on extra layers of meaning – though this insistently focuses on marriage issues, taking a swerve into the satirical with a villain who rails against feminism and political correctness. It has a cool, polished look – somehow, the all mod cons home with only healthy food in the fridge and modest clothes in the wardrobe turns out to be one of the scariest environments in the movies.