GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing.
Starring Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson.
Horror, US, 94 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2.
Once slated to close the 2020 Halloween FrightFest at a time when we could celebrate horror cinema and the festival together, Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s HELD now finds itself in the prime spot of opening film for FrightFest Halloween 2022 after the necessary move to go digital again with an even more packed festival than August’s inaugural event.
HELD tells the story of Emma and Henry Barret, a married couple who have decided to retreat to a remote high-tech house in the country surrounded on all sides by nothing but orange trees. Why they have done so is not immediately revealed, as is the main plot which gets fully into gear after patiently and quietly setting up its characters and location. While sleeping, a masked figure sneaks into their bedroom into the middle of the night. Waking up the next day to the fact that all their clothes have been replaced they soon realise that a sinister and dangerous game against a mysterious figure must be played if they are to survive.
This is the type of film that to give anymore away would rob the viewer of the neat shocks contained within. Leading lady Awbrey also penned the script, which with its measured and surprising plot highlights a talent that meshes well with the directing duo of Cluff and Lofing in front of and behind the camera. Without giving too much away it can be said that HELD manages to be prescient on an immediate and subtextual level mirroring as it does in its later stages current issues that have made the headlines regularly over the past few years. To say more as stated before would be to rob it of its surprises but the fact that its small cast in isolation manages to be eerily relevant to many of us marks it as of the moment even further and on topic in these times of quarantine.
Awbrey manages to make a sympathetic protagonist who you increasingly root for. As her husband, Bart Johnson also makes for a compassionate character, especially after one of the early story reveals provides an interesting and unpredictable wrinkle in their relationship. Where the film goes on from there, into increasing Stepford like territory, is just one of the many aspects that increasingly grips the viewer throughout.
In taking its time it may reveal its biggest flaw. Its slow burn opening act has an atmosphere lacking in dread or threat that may test the patience of viewers more used to front loaded thrills and spills that can be found in the majority of similar films. HELD is the type of film that the more it reveals the more it entertains, especially with its audacious, blackly comic and prescient final act. With an even more satirical edge it could have had the crossover potential to capture the imagination of a wider audience but as its stands HELD is the type of small-scale horror thriller that remains a shared secret among the genre savvy audience it will no doubt go down well with.
It delivers on the promise that the directors showed with THE GALLOWS films and highlights Awbrey as one to keep an eye on also, especially in terms of crafting a sinister story. Hopefully another collaboration to further their talents and entertain in such a subversive manner will be on the cards again in the future.