SWEETHEART is the latest film from co-writer/director J.D. Dillard (Sleight) about a woman stranded on a desolate island only to encounter a terrifying creature who hunts for her at night. The film stars Kiersey Clemons (2017’s Flatliners), Emory Cohen (Lords of Chaos), Hanna Mangan Lawrence (Spartacus), and Benedict Samuel (The Standford Prison Experiment). To best describe the plot, I’ll turn to the official synopsis:
“Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) finds herself completely alone on a small tropical island after her boat goes down. By day, every ounce of her strength, cunning, and courage is strained simply to find food, outlast the elements, and survive. But as the sun sets, Jenn’s waking nightmare inexorably grows into terror, when a malevolent force comes to stalk the jungle for prey. From Blumhouse, producers of Get Out and The Purge franchise, comes a thrilling twist on the castaway genre.”
The film opens with two people who have washed up the shore of an island. Jenn goes to help her friend Brad, but unfortunately finds him in dire straits with a coral puncturing his side, resulting in him bleeding out. Unable to save him, and now alone, Jenn buries him and begins exploring the island where she stumbles across some gear that would suggest people had once been there. Not finding anyone, she begins to construct shelter to protect herself from the elements while also searching out food. However, she starts to suspect that something is off after she finds Brad’s body gone and blood everywhere. Shortly afterwards, she starts hearing weird noises in the middle of the night coming from the forest. As easy day goes by and the noises get louder and more terrifying, Jenn finds herself fighting for her life against a supernatural predator who will stop at nothing to claim its prey.
SWEETHEART is one of those films that was a complete and total surprise. Not only did it get under my skin due to the paralyzing idea of being stranded on an island alone, but it also incorporated a creature that was relentless in its pursuit of its prey. What I found most impressive, besides the acting chops of Kiersey Clemons, who truly carried the weight of this film, was how well J.D. Dillard was able to subtly build tension and scares throughout the entire film. Though I felt the creature, once show in all its glory, was a bit lackluster, all the scenes leading up to that kept me completely captivated. This allowed my imagination to run wild with ideas of what exactly this creature was. I also found myself very much attached to Jenn and her survival. J.D. Dillard does a superb job, along with writers Alex Hyner and Alex Theurer, in bringing the character of Jenn to life in a way that makes it easy to feel for her while simultaneously rooting for her survival. At no point did any of Jenn’s tactics for survival seem over-the-top or unrealistic, which allowed for the character to feel more grounded and relatable. This definitely helped in making the situations she found herself in all the more terrifying.
While watching the film, I assumed that Jenn would be the only person we encounter on this island, but about half way through we meet two other survivors from the boat crash. One of which is her boyfriend Lucas, played by Emory Cohen, who I wanted to punch in the face numerous times (I mean that with all the compliments in the world towards Emory’s acting chops) as well as her friend Mia (Hanna Mangan Lawrence). I immediately felt as though something was off with them which made me feel an uneasiness and distrust towards them, especially Lucas. So not only do you have to worry about a blood-thirsty monster lurking on the outskirts of this island but also your friends, who won’t believe a word you are saying. As the film continues, you realize that Jenn is not just fighting for survival against this creature on an abandoned island, but also against people, such as Lucas and Mia, who want her to be something’s she not. Just like with the creature, this is executed with subtly and gives the film a deeper meaning than just being a typical creature feature. I always appreciate when horror movies focus on female characters surviving incredible hardships, both supernatural and realistic, even more so when it’s a woman of color (something we need much, much more of!!).
SWEETHEART is a solid creature feature film that digs deeper into themes such as isolation and discovery of one’s self. It may not be the scariest film you see this year, but it sure as hell does an incredible job of ramping up the tension and mystery as the story unfolds. If I had to give you one reason to see this movie, it would be, undoubtedly, Kiersey Clemons’ performance. Fans of aquatic horror that like a slow build of tension will find a lot to love with SWEETHEART when it arrives on digital and On Demand Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019.