As Blumhouse’s Sweetheart, from Sleight director J. D. Dillard comes to our shores, it brings with it a wave of enthusiastic festival responses and some exciting opinions from its showings Stateside. Aquatic horror is already making a strong comeback (after the excellent Underwater and Sea Fever) and in Dillard’s film something terrific this way comes.
After their boat sinks in a fierce storm, Jenn (Kersey Clemons) and her wounded friend Brad (Benedict Samuel) wash up on the shores of a tropical island. As Jenn seeks out the tools to survive, bigger problems lie out at sea, and when night falls something in the ocean continues to come ashore...and it’s hungry.
Sweetheart is a fiercely suspenseful survival tale, which takes its time to develop its lead character, its simple but superb story, and to unveil its water-dwelling menace. If you were to mesh Creature From the Black Lagoon with Predator it gives you an inkling what to expect from this absolute gem, that is a treasure in this genre that we urge you to discover. Dillard’s film is atmospheric in its build up and superbly crafted, but is made even better by the humanity at its heart, emanating from an outstanding lead Kersey Clemons.
As Jenn, Clemons is put through an absolute ordeal but her physical grit-filled performance is one that immediately strikes you. The resilient and resourceful nature of Jenn makes all the difference, as she encounters the unrestrained malevolence of nature and the deepest darkest depths of the sea but makes logical decisions and refreshingly wise ones. As this story progresses at a fantastically methodical pace, like the lapping waves on the shore of this paradise-turned-nightmare, we find more out about Jenn. As her past is hinted at and the story takes on a more personal turn, this is really her moment to finally stand up and fight the darkness that has threatened to takeover her life.
Dillard’s feature has teeth in so many respects but none more so than in how it respects its creature. Sure there are flashes of shock throughout (including one of the best jump scares in recent memory) but this is mostly a film reliant on slow reveals of its original and hugely impressive creature. Behind the masterful (mostly) practical and part CG FX, Andrew Crawford as the creature gives this predator an imposing and spectacular film presence. One that shakes you and compels you in equal measure.
It takes some time for the monsters full and rightfully proud reveal but the first flare-lit night time glimpse of this monster is a chilling piece of horror filmmaking and one of many moments of engrossing cinematography by Stefan Duscio. The island setting is the perfect backdrop, and as the mythos of the creature builds through hints, you feel up to your waist in the film’s atmosphere and the score by Charles Scott IV only assists in this feeling.
Boldly dialogue free for long stretches and all the better for this approach, when a development later on requires more speech, there is admittedly a clunky line or two but Sweetheart never sinks and continues to swim all the way up to its big finale. A finale that does come together that bit quicker, and the part ambiguous finish could have been a touch more dastardly but there is a lingering point here that you make up your own mind on the later events, as Dillard caps his story confidently and powerfully and leaves the rest up to fate and nature.
Sweetheart is an absolute must see. A beautifully shot and made aquatic monster horror that is short yet taut and achieves that ultimate accolade all films of this kind hope for, having a fantastic character facing an amazing monster. A future classic of its kind.
SWEETHEART / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: J. D. DILLARD / SCREENPLAY: J. D. DILLARD, ALEX HYNER, ALEX THEURER / STARRING: KERSEY CLEMONS, ANDREW CRAWFORD, EMORY COHEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (SKY STORE)