Held made me think of two other movies: Kramer vs. Kramer and Saw. The former because it's about a bitterly fighting couple, the latter because that couple is forced by an unseen entity to play a deadly game. I suppose that, with enough cleverness, you could combine those two pictures into something interesting, or at least amusing. Held brings nothing new to the table, though. Despite being far less gory, an adherence to the tropes of the “torture porn” formula makes the film feel about fifteen years beyond its sell-by date.

Newcomer Jill Awbrey (who also wrote the screenplay) stars as Emma Barrett. She and husband Henry (Bart Johnson) rent a beautiful, luxurious vacation home where they plan to spend a few days working on their marriage. On their first night there, the couple is drugged. They awaken to find that microchips have been implanted behind their ears. Any time they fail to do what the sinister voice on the house's speaker system tells them, they get zapped by...I don't know. This already doesn't make sense.

The gist of Held is that, for reasons we don't learn until the end, the person behind that sinister voice wants to use operant conditioning to force Emma and Henry to improve the state of their relationship. That leads to endless scenes in which the disembodied voice issues banal commands such as ”Open the door for your wife, Mr. Barrett,” followed by intermittent bursts of violence whenever some minor character finds their way to the house for whatever contrived reason.

You can't deny that the movie has some thematic ambition. It wants to be a tale about gender politics within a marriage. Several factors work against that, though. The first is a lack of originality in presentation. Held borrows heavily from the Saw playbook, and since that picture was widely ripped off, it now feels stale. The film additionally waits way too long to clue us in to its quasi-satiric intent, so when that twist finally arrives, it appears to have dropped in from another movie.

Bland performances from the cast members don't help. They fail to make the stakes real for the audience. Emma and Henry are undeveloped as characters, so without charismatic acting, becoming emotionally invested in their dilemma is difficult. These people simply don't seem like a married couple, they seem like actors playing a married couple.

A few individual moments in Held are attention-getting, and directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing (The Gallows) certainly keep the pace moving. There just isn't enough here storywise or character-wise to make the picture anywhere near as exciting or stirring as it obviously wants to be.

out of four

Held is unrated, but contains adult language, some sexual content, and strong violence. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.