Movie Review: Rent a house? Get “Held” against your will.

A couple rents a little vacation getaway in a state-of-the-art secure house out in the country, and find themselves locked in it forced to reckon with their brittle marriage in “Held,” a tame and tentative thriller that turns tense only as it reaches its climax.

Any foreshadowing is underlined twice in writer and star Jilly Awbrey‘s script as she plays a wife who arrives at this gated, super-secure rental, dropped-off by a rideshare guy (Rez Kempton) who asks enough nosey questions to give us the creeps.

But as she makes herself at home, punching buttons to ensure the security system is on, she might wonder how — with a locked gate — somebody got to the front door to ring the bell and leave her flowers. Maybe she’s still wondering where that wine she spilled drained off into under the bar.

Husband Henry (Bart Johnson) is there just in time to divert our attention, and hers, to this tepid marriage they share. It’s only after they’ve passed out that things turn really ugly.

“I think there’s someone in here!”

Who tucked them in? Who left this note? Where are our cell phones?

When sliding metal shutters clamp down and electric shocks greet their efforts to get out and a voice, first on the land line and then on a PA system, commands “You will NOT leave the house again” and “You MUST obey” and “You brought this on yourselves,” they start to get the message.

Us? We’ve been treated to a stand-alone prologue with different characters that resembles more of a rape than a hostage situation and seems to have little to do with the tale that we’re now being told. We have reason to be a little nonplussed.

With CCTV cameras Emma and Henry didn’t realize were there covering the whole house and with fresh surgical implants behind their ears that add to the “control” the distorted, disembodied voice seems to have, their “What do you WANT?” seems like a fair question. God knows we’re asking that, and “How will they get out of this?”

This Fresno-made thriller presents a conundrum that screenwriter/star Awbrey puzzles through with mixed results. The “solutions” to the various mysteries presented by all this drag cost-benefit analysis into the viewing experience.

Are any of these means worth whatever end the “You will OBEY” captor hopes to achieve? The suggestion that Emma and Henry are being forced into some sort of couples therapy — “A husband opens the door for his wife.” — run by say, the Promise Keepers, smells insane. Legal exposure, cost of the customized house, and who’s paying for all this? And why?

The acting is a tad unpolished, which matters less when we get to the slam-bang third act. But the plot hurls one “Give me a BREAK” at us after another, which matters a lot.

“Held” may have messaging that fits the cultural moment well enough, and visceral violence that pulls us in and engages — eventually. But that first hour has beaten our interest in this slow-moving indie thriller to death long before that.

MPA Rating: unrated, bloody violence, profanity

Cast: Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson, Rez Kempton, Zack Gold

Credits: Directed by Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing, script by Jill Awbrey. A Magnet release.

Running time: 1:34

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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