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Arrow Video FrightFest 2020 Reviews: Held and The Sinners

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The second digital edition of Arrow Video FrightFest began on the 21st of October with the world premiere of Held and the UK premiere of The Sinners.

Check out our FrightFest coverage

HELD

Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing (The Gallows and The Gallows Act II), Held is written by Jill Awbrey (her first feature) who also stars opposite Bart Johnson (Coach Bolton from the High School Musical movies).

Emma (Awbrey) and Henry (Johnson) Barrett have been married for nine years and take an anniversary break at a chic, techy bolthole in the Middle of Nowhere™. Following a real-feeling awkward first night where it is made clear that everything is not OK with the pair or their marriage, they awaken the next morning to discover they had been drugged and messed with in the night.

This airbnb from hell is revealed to be full of cameras and under the complete control of a disembodied voice. Emma and Henry are locked in and forced to do as the voice says with a failure to comply resulting in being painfully zapped by implants snuck into their heads as they snoozed. 

The Voice’s main preoccupation is with how they treat each other and is keen to have them behave in a traditional gender roles style straight from the 50s. Their captor also studied at the Jigsaw school of marriage counselling and forces them into compromising positions and confronts them with indiscretions expected to be violently expunged.

Awbrey has written an edge of your seat thriller that unfolds at a perfect pace, keeping you constantly wondering and desperate for answers. When answers come, the reveals are satisfying and lead to lots more delicious twists and turns that are unpredictable and keep you constantly on your toes.

It’s a doozy of a first feature script and she is also such a terrific lead. Awbrey conveys her character’s emotions subtly, never going overboard and manages to remain likeable throughout even when certain past events come to light. Her chemistry with Johnson is right on too, the pair feeling realistically familiar with each other throughout. Johnson handles his character evolution brilliantly too and the pair share some horrific and uncomfortable scenes together convincingly couple-like.

Cluff and Lofing clearly know they are onto a winner and their direction remains clean and hands-off, most concerned with carefully capturing Awbrey’s story. That is not to say their direction is anonymous. The co-directors have a keen eye for small details that make the viewer feel uneasy and aware that something is amiss while cranking up the tension to almost unbearable levels in certain scenes as well. They also have a deft touch making things you were shown earlier that pay off feel like natural and fulfilling Chekhov’s Gun’s as opposed to heavy-handed LOOK AT THIS IT WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER moments.

Held is a nasty, classy, creepy thriller that also has something to say about women never being able to take their safety for granted and male fragility and control.

Held does not currently have a UK release date.

 

THE SINNERS

The Sinners aka The Color Rose is written and directed by Courtney Paige (Dead of Night) and is about a group of Catholic school bad girls who each model themselves on one of the seven deadly sins. After an attack on one of their number who has betrayed them goes too far, the girls start being picked off one by one.

The Sinners is clearly desperate to be a Mean Girls meets The Craft of a slasher but is a charmless mess. All the girls are absolutely unlikeable so there is not a single character to identify with or care about. The handbrake turns into horror are so abrupt and at odds with the rest of the film’s tone that they give you whiplash. And plot elements and characters appear and then mean nothing or vanish to such an extent as to render the film nonsense.

The Sinners does not currently have a UK release date.

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