Held (2020) Explained

An Average Movie-Goer’s Review

Spoilers! If you don’t want spoilers – check out the Spoiler-Free post

Held (2020) Explained Poster

I love horror movies and if I’m going to watch them anyway, why not write an entertaining/funny review from the POV of an average movie-goer and not a professional critic.

Today we’re looking at 2021’s Held which, at the time of this posting, is streaming on Hulu.

On their anniversary a married couple spends the weekend at a remote house but are soon terrorized by an intruder watching their every move.

Is Held (2020) Scary?

Held definitely leans more into the mystery aspect of the story instead of the horror. There’s maybe one jump scare in the entire movie and the story overall isn’t scary but that doesn’t make it bad.

Detailed Plot:

The film opens with a quick scene of a young woman drinking with two men in a car. The man in the front seat tells the other “she’s all yours” and the visibly confused woman panics as the windows are rolled up and the doors are locked.

It’s implied the man rapes her as we cut to a woman, Emma (played by Jill Awbrey), in a cab driving through a desolate place. The driver (played by Rez Kempton) asks Emma some questions, clearly making her uncomfortable, and she tells him she’s on a weekend trip with her husband who is joining her the following day.

Emma writes, what appears to be, poetry in a book and the cab driver apologizes for his prying questions. They finally arrive at her destination which is seemingly far away from anything or anyone.

The house surrounding by an orange grove
The perfect horror movie setting.

Before he leaves we learn the driver’s name is Joe and he asks for a little extra tip which comes off as pretty desperate. After he leaves, Emma enters the code to unlock the door and turns off the security alarm showing us the place has pretty advanced security with the front door having multiple large magnetic bolt locks.

It’s also pretty clear from her reaction to things that this is Emma’s first time here. As she looks around the home she finds one room (or maybe it’s a closet) completely locked which I’m sure will come into play later.

While unpacking she realizes she’s missing her book and must have left it in the cab. That night after she showers there’s some banging on the front door and we see that Emma never turned the security system back on!

Jill Awbrey as Emma in 2020's Held
Green means ‘come on in intruders!’

Emma opens the door to find someone has delivered a dozen roses and finally goes to turn on the security system. She also has no reaction to it having been off this entire time. 

Later she accidentally spills some wine near the kitchen island and notices a slight gap between the floor and the table. Using a flashlight she sees there’s some paint chipped under the table but is distracted when her phone vibrates. 

She ignores the call but is then distracted by a car approaching the house which turns out to be her husband, Henry (played by Bart Johnson), arriving early. Entering the home, he offers her some dessert in the backyard.

Bart Johnson and Jill Awbrey in 2020's Held
The couple

We learn they’ve been together for 9 years and they’re having some marital issues. Henry tries to initiate sex but Emma turns him down and it’s clear the lack of sex is one of the issues in the marriage.

Henry walks back inside and when Emma tries to talk to him, he only requests another drink telling her it’s been a long night. She pours both of them a bit of whiskey while Henry talks to his son where we learn more about the lovely couple. 

Henry was previously married to a woman named Emily, had a son, and, although we don’t learn what happened to Emily, Henry married Emma 9 years ago. They each drink their whiskey while discussing Henry’s son’s engagement and Emma becomes dizzy. After Henry puts her to bed he also begins to get dizzy.

That night we see the red light from the security system turn green, and someone walks into the home. In brief glimpses we see someone enter the room, change Emma’s clothes, and take her phone. Through Emma’s half-asleep eyes, we catch a glimpse of the perpetrator in a mask.

The intruder appears to a half-asleep Emma
Joe? He’s the only other character in this movie!

In the morning Emma wakes to find a rose and a note where her phone used to be along with two cups of coffee. She then realizes she’s wearing new clothes and wakes Henry up asking him when he made the coffee.

Henry says he didn’t make any coffee and they read the note wishing them a happy anniversary. Putting two and two together they realize someone was in the house. Henry asks if Emma saw anything weird the day before and she tells him no besides the random flower delivery from him. Henry then states he didn’t send her flowers. So clearly there’s some weird shit going on.

The two then try to escape and head for the car but find the keys missing as well. They hear someone in the orange trees behind the car and catch a glimpse of someone going past. Henry elects to go find out who is out there and tells Emma to get in the house.

“Let me go unarmed to confront this random intruder”

Inside Emma picks up the landline rotary phone and after hearing a dial tone, a distorted voice says, “obey us.” Emma drops the phone in fear as the tv turns on and starts to display different camera feeds around the house. It then changes to video and we see Emma from the night before and after her shower.

This tells us whoever is doing this was in the house prior to the flowers arriving as they would have had to set up the cameras.

Henry returns to the house banging on the window and Emma lets him in. Bleeding from the back of the head, Henry claims he was attacked from behind but we didn’t see it. If you know your mystery stories, you know something happening off-screen means it’s going to be related to a twist later.

Henry is injured while out looking for the intruder
That blood looks suspicious mainly because someone HAS to be a suspect!

The rotary phone then rings to which Emma terrifyingly says “it was just on the floor” meaning there’s someone in the house. Henry picks up and the same voice from earlier tells them they aren’t allowed to leave the house and must follow the rules.

The voice tells them they know everything they’ve done and if they stay inside they’ll be safe. It then repeats, “you must obey” over and over until Henry hangs up. The two try to escape the house but the security system activates, locking the doors and causing metal grates to lower over every window.

Emma picks up a wooden stool and is about to hit a window when she starts crying out in pain, holding the side of her head. Henry rushes over and we see there’s something behind her ear that is causing the pain. It appears to be some kind of sonic device that can be triggered remotely to cause pain and incapacitate the victim.

The implant behind Emma's ear
Or just a really weird piercing?

The voice tells the two they have to stay inside in order to stay safe and says, “we are watching over you.” If this ends up being some alien sci-fi twist, it better be done right!

Henry realizes the camera is in the smoke detector and goes to grab it. But, his sonic device is triggered by the probably-not-aliens bad guys causing him to collapse. The voice tells them they must obey as obedience is the root of all happiness. They are then instructed to go to the bedroom.

Before entering the bedroom, the voice tells Henry to open the door as “a man should open the door for his wife”. After he does, the voice tells Emma to smile and thank him. This is starting to feel like they’re being forced to conform to the old-style marriage roles that you would see on old TV shows.

The voice forces them to get changed into specific clothes and then head to the kitchen so Emma can prepare a meal. Henry is then instructed to get a laptop that was hidden behind some books and to open a file.

Text messages revealing Emma's infidelity
MY GOD, she’s a paragraph texter!

The file opens screenshots of text messages between Emma and someone else! Henry is forced to read it aloud as Emma shakily continues prepping the meal. The next file is a video of Emma in bed with another man.

The voice then says “Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices in truth… the truth will purify your marriage.” So now it feels like some weird cult thing because why would aliens care about one of them cheating on the other?

OR it could be some kind of artificial intelligence that controls the house and learned about human behavior from old tv shows… isn’t there a Disney tv-movie like this?

We find out the guy Emma was cheating with is named Ryan but she claims it’s over. During a tense forced dinner, we learn Emma ended the relationship with Ryan but Ryan doesn’t want it to be over, and the call she avoided earlier in the movie was from him.

Back in their room, the voice forces the couple to dance while it turns on a video of their marriage.

The intruder has control of the televisions
How did they get that footage?!

The voice then attempts to force them to have sex but Henry refuses to go through with it. His sonic device triggers causing him to collapse and bleed from his ear. 

Emma tends to his wound and we get confirmation the girl from the beginning of the movie was a younger Emma who was raped. Henry tells Emma he will protect her and make sure nothing like that ever happens again. The two appear to reconcile their issues and we cut to black.

Later, the voice appears to be playing on a loop spouting nonsense about being obedient while only Emma is awake. There’s then static in the speakers and we hear Joe’s voice coming through as he is at the front gate intercom. Joe has found Emma’s book that she left in his car and is now trying to return it.

Rez Kempton as Joe in 2020's Held
Joe you beautiful innocent man, I knew you had nothing to do with any of this

Emma and Henry bang on the door trying to get Joe’s attention but we see that he is too far to hear them. Emma then has the idea to use a flashlight through the peephole which ends up working in getting Joe to realize something is wrong.

Unfortunately, as he tries to climb over the gate, someone pops out and attacks him, dragging him away. Emma realizes that if their hostage taker is busy with Joe then that means no one is watching them. She confirms this when she goes for the smoke detector and doesn’t get shocked.

Seeing an opportunity she goes to check the gap under the kitchen island table from earlier and finds a crawl space. Henry tells her he doesn’t think it’s a good idea… acting awfully suspicious all of a sudden.

We then hear someone enter the house and in a jump scare the man appears attacking Henry.

The intruder attacks Henry in the house
“Oh hey, whatcha looking at? Sooo, I’m going to attack you now.”

The intruder then pulls Emma from the crawlspace, presses some kind of device on his wrist to activate, what I’m calling, the Sonic Shocker™ in her ear, and injects Emma with some brown liquid that knocks her out.

Sometime later both Emma and Ryan wake in their bed and find Ryan tied up in their living room. Emma goes to untie him but the voice tells her not to touch him. Obviously confused, Ryan starts to panic when everyone sees a knife on a nearby table.

He then asks Henry for help which turns into an argument since, you know, Ryan was sleeping with his wife. Ryan doesn’t help the situation when he says, “if she was so happy with you, why did she end up in bed with me?”

This pisses Henry off so much that he picks up the knife and goes to stab Ryan but is stopped by the voice. It tells him to give the knife to Emma and instructs her to kill Ryan or they’ll kill Henry. Henry then collapses on the floor as his Sonic Shocker™ activates.

With no other choice, Emma stabs Ryan in the stomach, killing him.

Emma has to kill Ryan to save Henry
Worst breakup ever

Later Henry brings Emma a glass of whiskey while he goes to clean up. Before she takes a sip, she remembers this is what knocked her out on their first night.

Suspicious, she pretends to drink it and spills it on the rug out of sight from the smoke alarm camera. She then fakes being asleep and we see a man enter the room to check her pupils.

After he leaves Emma goes to look for Henry by shouting out his name which makes no sense if she’s trying to hide from the intruder who just left the room. She finds the room that was locked at the start of the movie now unlocked leading to a secret room. 

She walks in and we change aspect ratios, possibly to simulate 1950’s style television since this room looks ripped from that time period.

Emma finds the intruder's room
Expecting the Brady Bunch to come out at some point

Turns out this is their intruder’s main hub where he’s been watching the couple and keeps his sleepy time injection juice. Emma accidentally brushes a remote turning on a video from a cult-like group called The Eden Group.

Turns out this cult(?) or business’s main goal is to return couples back to their “traditional” roles in the home. We see a man explaining the whole process in a sales pitch and we see other couples who “happily” exit the program. Happily is in quotations because it’s clear the women are frightened and not with it at all.

By the way, the intruder is revealed to be the man sitting on the couch in the image above who also appears to be the head of the company. This is weird since you would think he would just hire someone to do their dirty work.

The video ends and Emma spots a file on her marriage, playing it reveals Henry has been in on it the whole time. The attack that left him with a head wound from earlier was faked, he faked being dizzy, and he faked being attacked by the intruder while Emma was in the crawl space.

Turns out Henry is the one who hired The Eden Group in order to revive and gain control of his marriage. DUN DUN DUNN

Through the cameras, Emma sees Henry and their intruder approaching and goes back to her room to fake unconsciousness. We then hear Henry and the intruder talking about using the footage of Emma killing Ryan as leverage for her to always obey him.

With this, the intruder declares the job to be complete and Henry carries Emma to the car. The two men then go back inside to find Henry’s keys but it’s revealed Emma took them from the secret room. Once they leave she goes to start the car but instead decides to use the keys to cut out the Sonic Shocker™ from the back of her ear.

Emma removes her implant
You might want to keep that for evidence…

Before she can escape the intruder returns and attacks her. She manages to free herself and escape into the orange grove. 

Using the fake blood Henry used to fake his injury earlier, she makes tracks that lead the intruder away. This gives her the opportunity to smack him across the face with a shovel. The intruder falls back and hits his head on a branch killing him instantly. She then takes back the keys and takes the shocker device from his wrist.

Henry appears but Emma pretends she woke up in the car not knowing what was going on, lying to him about knowledge of his involvement. Henry goes along with it but notices she has blood on her dress from her ear and convinces her to go back into the house. 

“Blood? No, this is… Blood Orange juice?”

Inside Emma attempts to use the device to shock Henry but it’s revealed he also removed his. He then attacks her slamming her head onto the ground. What is his plan now that the jig is up?!

She breaks free using her wedding ring to scratch his face and runs to the kitchen. Henry runs after, stabbing her in the leg but Emma breaks the bottle of whiskey on his head to escape again.

She then runs to the secret room and picks up the Sonic Shocker Injector™ and injects Henry when he appears. He then tosses her on the ground and starts to monologue telling her he did this all for her. This gives Emma enough time to pull out the shocking device and shock him at the highest levels. She then tosses the device in a cup of whiskey and leaves the house.

We next see her driving away as the sun rises. She stops when she spots a car crashed in the distance and it’s revealed to be a still-alive Joe! They both drive off as the movie ends.

Emma and Joe drive away to safety
I hope she gives Joe a much bigger tip


Held is one of those movies I would, without question, put in the category of “That was a movie”, it’s neither good nor bad. It has its ups and downs, it has an interesting twist, and has okay acting. Would I recommend it to everyone? Eh maybe if you have nothing else to watch give it a shot.

The story overall makes sense but I do question the impact of the opening scene. I understand the writer’s intent (Jill Awbrey who plays Emma also wrote the script), Emma was raped by a man who took control of her and now has to deal with the same situation only it’s now her husband using a company to gain control of her.

But, the impact of that isn’t really felt when you consider we only find out about her husband’s involvement with the company in the last 20 minutes of the movie. We also have no idea, until the end, that the company the intruder works for (or owns) is a company with the intention to put men back in control of the marriage. On top of that the rape is only mentioned once in the entire movie so, taking all into account, it doesn’t feel like a driving force for Emma’s character arc.

Does this ruin the movie, no but it does make it “just a movie” for me which isn’t a bad thing especially since it’s at least entertaining when you’re trying to find out who is behind terrorizing the couple. But it’s one of those movies where now that I know the twist, I don’t need nor want to watch it again.


Stuff to Ignore

Rotten Tomatoes – 37%

Metacritic – 46

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