What Keeps You Alive is a gripping film about the horror of other people

Written by Joseph Earp on 14th June, 2018
What Keeps You Alive is a gripping film about the horror of other people

You don’t necessarily need to have a good time on set to make a good movie. Some of the greatest achievements in cinematic history have been wrangled out of uniquely traumatising experiences; think Werner Herzog threatening his star Klaus Kinski with an honest-to-god pistol on the set of Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, or The Exorcist director William Friedkin permanently injuring Ellen Burstyn’s tailbone during a stunt gone wrong.

You’d be forgiven for assuming What Keeps You Alive, a new survival horror flick from Grave Encounters co-creator Colin Minihan, was born of similarly fraught circumstance. The story of a young couple, Jackie and Jules, who decamp for a holiday that quickly takes a turn for the sinister, What Keeps You Alive was shot deep in the woods of Muskoka, Ontario, and features long sequences of nerve-wracking tension. Victims run through dense forest, row across lakes, and generally get pushed as close to exhaustion as it is possible to get. So how fun could it really have been for cast and crew to live off grid in the woods for some 20-solid days?

Watch the trailer for What Keeps You Alive here:

The answer, surprisingly, is a lot. “Some of the most physically demanding scenes were my favourite, looking back,” explains lead Brittany Allen, who plays Jules in the film. “In the moment, I was pushed to my limits and exhausted beyond belief, but once I’d rowed back and forth across the lake for an entire afternoon, or sprinted through the woods take after take, I would feel very empowered and like I’d done something I didn’t think my body could do before.

“The scenes where Jules and Jackie were at their happiest were the most ‘fun’ to shoot. But so’s shooting a rowboat scene in the freezing cold, as the sun is coming up at 6 AM and the sky is purple and everyone is exhausted, and you’re racing to beat the clock, and Hannah [Anderson, who plays Jackie] and I are cursing the cold, but then jumping into character as the drone races past us, and then driving to get McDonalds’ breakfast as everyone else is just waking up. Every scene and moment on this shoot was pretty special.”

Indeed, for Minihan, most of the struggle making the film happened before cameras even rolled. “It took me months to develop the idea and then weeks to write the script,” he explains. “There were heavy re-writes leading up to the shoot as characters changed a lot due to casting, so this made for a very frantic race to re-write it before going to camera.

“However I went with the flow and really trusted my instincts [during] this time crunch, and some of my strongest ideas came out of it. The whole process probably started about a year before we went to camera. It wasn’t some script I had locked away … I basically wrote it knowing I could pull it together as a producer and shot it soon after.”

Watch a clip from What Keeps You Alive here:

At its heart, What Keeps You Alive is a film obsessed with the mystery of the other – it is no spoiler to reveal that rather than being haunted by ghouls, goblins, or serial killers, Jules and Jackie are haunted by people they once thought they knew.

“I do think that people for the most part are incapable of truly knowing themselves,” Minihan says. “When we do something that our projected self doesn’t understand or doesn’t agree with, that’s when we have identity crises and go see therapists or something. If we don’t even really know who we are, then we mustn’t know who our loved ones are either. That theme excited me: not knowing your loved one at all, even though you think you do.”

What Keeps You Alive is playing as part of Sydney Film Festival. For more SFF content, check out our interview with the director of Holiday here.

The article was originally published on Brag Magazine