By Don Simpson | June 3, 2011
Director: Frank Mosley
Writers: Frank Mosley, Robby Storey
Starring: Robby Storey, Stephanie Rhodes
It is really difficult to get a hold on Laura (Stephanie Rhodes) and Alan’s (Robby Storey) relationship. Hold opens at a party as Alan sits alone on a sofa staring at Laura. (The opening shot is so simple, yet the framing accentuates the fact that we are viewing the action from Alan’s — more importantly, the male — perspective.) Laura confronts his male gaze and they exchange some quips about their lack of attraction to the other.
Well, it turns out that was all just a game. We soon realize that Laura and Alan Marsh are a young, married couple; but even then, we are not quite sure how well they get along together. A conversation Laura and Alan have with a male classmate of Laura’s lends the film an unsettling air in which we might suspect that she is cheating on Alan (we suspect that Alan might be suspicious as well). During their drive home after the party, there are some comments about Alan’s overall inability to let loose — though Laura notes that the party tonight was an exception (he drank 4 1/2 beers!) — and then his inadequacy as a male is highlighted during his fumbling attempt to change their flat tire (but he drank 4 1/2 beers!). The next morning, Laura quips that Alan is jealous because once she earns her master’s degree she will earn more money than he does; the comment appears to burn Alan, so he leaves for work only giving Laura a kiss on the head. It is not until the next moment that we realize that there really is a strong love that binds Laura and Alan together.
Let’s hold right here for a second. Hold is a difficult film to review without revealing one major spoiler. (Heck, even the film’s own synopsis spoils it.) So… In an attempt to not give away when or how the tragic event occurs, I will just say that, at some point in the narrative, a home intruder rapes Laura. We do not see the rape because writer-director Frank Mosley stays true to his vision that Hold is told from Alan’s perspective. Alan does not witness the rape, he only learns the facts as we do via the police investigation.
After we learn about the rape, it is difficult not to recall a long static shot in which Mosley patiently shoots the exterior of the Marsh residence, from a safe distance away. When the shot plays out on screen, we impatiently wait for something to happen; but as the soundtrack of birds chirping plays, we are forced to hold right here to reflect upon the peace and tranquility of this white upper middle class suburb. Post-rape, however, we realize that there is something darker and much more sinister about that shot, as it represents the quiet, self-imposed seclusion of suburban living. The framing of the shot creates a bubble around the Marsh household as if purposely shielding it from its surroundings; but, after the rape, we realize that this sense of seclusion is not always a good thing. Separation from society does not always make us safe. As with any tragic event, “what if” scenarios instantly pop into our mind. Well, what if the Marsh house was surrounded by people walking and biking around, kids playing in front yards, even more traffic driving down the street — would the increased activity around the house have deterred the intruder from destroying Laura and Alan’s lives?
As a critic who often views films through a feminist lens, learning that Hold would view the aftermath of Laura’s rape from a male perspective was a little disconcerting. But Mosley never trivializes Laura’s suffering and Hold is not just about conveying how difficult the rape is for Alan to deal with in order to drum up some sympathy for the poor guy; Hold is about Alan’s reaction to the rape and how that affects his relationship with Laura.
Just as Alan never tells Laura what he is thinking or feeling, he never conveys that information to the audience either. We are all just left guessing what is going on inside his head. Laura craves for Alan to hold and touch her, but he seems to purposefully avoid doing so. Similarly to Laura, the audience is left wondering: Does Alan still love Laura? Does he think she is broken? Is he afraid of her because she was raped? In many cases, actions speak louder than words. For example, when Alan buys a gun we realize that the male hero complex has certainly kicked in or when he attends church and reads the bible, we know that this character who has previously shown no religious inclinations feels helpless enough to turn to God for answers. (Like a good Republican, Alan reaches for a gun and his Bible for a solution — which could easily be analogous to the post-9/11 mentality in the United States.)
Alan’s pride has been severely damaged. As a husband, he should have been able to protect Laura. Now he becomes increasingly obsessed with Laura’s safety (on the rare occasion that he vocalizes his paranoia to Laura, he asks her “Do you feel safe?”). Suspicion festers inside Alan. Every Hispanic male is subjected to Alan’s suspicious gaze — so are some random males talking around at a bar and two guys chitchatting at a pawn shop. Alan’s piercing glare impeccably conveys that from his perspective everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Alan has essentially placed his relationship with Laura on hold until the perpetrator is apprehended — but will the police ever catch the guy who did this? It is not until Alan begins to communicate — mostly by tears — his feelings to Laura, that they are able to get a renewed hold on their relationship.
Rape is obviously one of the toughest subjects for actors to contend with. The characters of Laura and Alan could not have been easy ones to portray, especially with so much focus on their expressions and actions. Without the crutch of expository dialogue to rely upon, Rhodes and Storey (who co-wrote the script with Mosley) prove that they are certainly up for the task. To say that Hold relies on them as actors is an understatement; because it is, quite literally, their faces that convey the story; their eyes are the windows to the film’s soul.
With no musical score and long dramatic pauses between dialogue, Mosley allows the film’s sense of anxiety and tension to build not by words or sounds, but by the expressions on the actors’ faces. Mosley’s frequent use of close-ups really drives home the importance he places on the visual display of emotions to convey his story. This technique lends Hold a John Cassavetes-like sense of naturalism, in which scenes play out organically. (The intense sense of psychological and existential turmoil boiling within the characters — not to mention the scathing critique of the perceived utopia of suburbia — bares strong similarities to Michael Haneke’s films.) Mosley is not afraid to allow the camera to linger a few extra beats after the action would traditionally end; a strategy that, as it turns out, drastically increases the dramatic tension of the scenes.
Avoiding the use of expository dialogue and a musical score while also allowing the scenes their own natural breath, Mosley wears his patience and confidence as a filmmaker proudly on his sleeve. Mosley never panders to the audience, nor does he go out of his way to hide details from us or provide us with all-too-obvious clues. Mosley also remains remarkably tenacious in maintaining a consistency in perspective — we may see what Alan sees and hear what Alan hears, but we do not know what Alan thinks. The camera therefore does not represent Alan, we are merely watching the events from over his shoulder (which is exactly what the opening shot alludes to us).