Sweetheart (2019)

Director: J.D Dillard
Starring: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrene, Benedict Samuel, Andrew Crawford .USA. 1h 22m

I love the quote that goes something like, “you have to lose yourself to find yourself” and while it’s not the associated quote of this gripping horror, it seems to apply to the lead, Jenn a girl who doesn’t show much fear in her unusual castaway situation, but one who grows with the movie into something much stronger in this somewhat subtle new take to being stranded on an pewny island.

At first glance and in the opening, there’s not a huge amount going on in J D Dillards stomach churning thriller, but in reflection there’s a lot of social criticism a brilliant new monster and new heroine that with her faults is brilliant, brave and with some work could easily be the new Vasquez (Aliens). Dillard manages to make a lot happen on a really tiny island and with a minimal cast, but there isn’t a dull moment and he keeps a steady methodical pace.

The movie opens silent and violent, a woman washes up on shore, her companion has coral stuck in his side, muttering “did you see it” while she tries to get him some coconut water he perishes. Desperate she attempts to walk the shore and easily manages to walk the entire circumference of the island. Realising her desperate situation, she investigates and discovers a few remains, a cooler, scraps of a tent, but no real supplies so she digs in until one night she hears a plane fly over and attempts to get it’s attention by using a flare but as it drops it highlights a very different threat. Something from the sea which HP Lovecraft would be proud to play with.

At first i wasn’t quite sure about the creature, often advertised as the best new creature in decades, I entered critical but with an open mind, and the more you see and learn about it, the more i began to like the little critter, it’s big and deadly and matches its environment, kinda like a demonic shark man hybrid, in the ocean it’s mostly a CGI beast and the movements become fluid, and on land it’s more “man in a suit”, The giant Andrew Crawford to be precise, so it seems a bit less streamlined and clunky but in all fairness this design works, as most ocean creatures are a bit clumsy on land.

It’s not until a few nights of trying to find new ways to survive onslaught from the sea creature there’s a huge revelation in the movie, now I don’t think I’m giving too much away as there are quite a cast members noted for this film about one woman, firstly one mangled corpse and then some other people, but their arrival only brings new depths to the movie, and finally we learn the woman’s name, Jenn and in her life before her island struggle she was known as Sweetheart but this name is now used as a way to talk down to her as the new characters open up her checkered history and this whole thing seems to boil down to a dark chapter of redemption for her, and with any decent movie, the newcomers add some grit to the plot by fucking things up, not even in a totally malicious way but this part of the movie really raised my blood pressure, as doubts are cast I almost wanted to shout, come on shark boy kill em all!! But in all fairness who would (want) believe that there’s a monster lurking in the ocean, we only know like 5% of what’s out there!

At times it feels so shitty that this is all happening on such a gorgeous island filled with so much beauty and character, but Dillard uses this to his advantage as he draws a harsh line between this remote idealistic holiday destination marred by a nightmarish monster who’s only fear seems to be lightning, but he keeps the pace slow and methodical as Jenn logically works out steps for survival, with a few MacGuyver skills but nothing overly outrageous Dillard doesn’t get too far above reality to force the narrative and that’s commendable.

Towards the end of the movie, there’s the downside that Jenn doesn’t form some kind of pet friend like Wilson, but she does eventually go full on Predator Showdown with a fire circus of fights with bravery at the end when Sweetheart becomes a game of all or nothing after she writes a fresh farewell note and aims to kill or be killed.

It’s an incredibly brave movie which speaks of more strength in the black direction and acting, Dilliard said in an interview “Knowing that yeah, okay, I’m gonna put a black woman at the lead. My sisters love horror movies, weirdly, more than I do, considering I just made one. But they don’t have many…the list is short of black women killing the creature.” And he picked an extremely talented and charming actress for the role, with such a small cast, Kiersey Clemons had a lot of work and responsibility on her shoulders but she carries herself like a pro.

I hope this starts a new trend and bravo to a wonderful thrilling adventure.

Rating: 7/10

R: Curve (2015), Prey (2019), Predator (1987), Ma (2019).
L: Island Thrillers, Creature Features
A: The AOFA Brief History and Introduction to Black Women In Horror.

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