Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sweetheart, from Blumhouse

The list of gill-men monster movies is short, but distinguished: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Humanoids from the Deep, The Shape of Water. One of those even won some awards. Probably Humanoids, because Ann Turkel was the best. Bravely, Blumhouse and the director of Sleight will wade into these waters. The horror is more subtle than you might expect, but it is still very real in JD Dillard’s Sweetheart, which is now available on VOD.

Presumably it really was a boating accident. Regardless, Jenn comes to on the beach of a remote desert island in relatively good health, but her friend nearby will quickly expire. She will comfort him and then bury him, but something will later dig him up. As she explores the island, she finds signs people were here before—and died here before. It is all quite baffling until she catches a glimpse of some sort of scaly monster living off shore.

Soon, Jenn spends all her nights running and hiding from the creature. Fortunately, it does not come out during the day, or at least not very much. It is sort of a frying-pan-into-the-fire situation, but she adapts quickly. Of course, when more survivors eventually wash-up, they assume she is merely showing signs of post-traumatic stress. Right, they will just have to learn for themselves the hard way, won’t they?

Sleight was a very good film, but it was driven more by its talented young cast and their engaging characters. Even though Sweetheart has a smaller cast and long stretches without any dialogue, Dillard is working on a much bigger canvas this time. He captures a vivid sense of Jenn’s isolation and masterfully builds the tension. Dillard also puts on a masterclass on how to slowly reveal a movie monster, for maximum effect.

Kiersey Clemons also deserves enormous credit for her work as Jenn. She is the one on-screen for 99.99% of the time, a great deal of which it is just her on her own. (She is sort of like Tom Hanks in Castaway, but she also has to be convincing running for her life in abject terror.) However, she also brings an appealing toughness to the character, making her a survivor, rather than a passive victim.

Beach-and-surf horror movies can be tricky to pull off, but Dillard and cinematographer Stefan Duscio make the sun-dappled isle look appropriately ominous. It is a fresh and original setting for a horror movie, impressively fleshed (and scaled) out by the scrappy makeup and design team. Although Dillard’s Two Sentence Horror Stories episode was a bit disappointing, Sweetheart is a tense, tightly executed feature that will not disappoint fans of his first feature. He should definitely be a genre filmmaker fans will follow. Enthusiastically recommended, Sweetheart is now available on VOD platforms.