Directed by J. D. Dillard
Produced by Jason Blum, J. D. Dillard, Bill Karesh, Alex Hyner, Alex Theurer
Written by J. D. Dillard, Alex Hyner, Alex Theurer
Cinematography by Stefan Duscio
Music by Charles Scott IV
Edited by Gina Hirsch
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Sweetheart takes a ridiculously familiar horror trope, establishes the rules of its story, and delivers one of the most satisfying survival films in recent memory, all in only 82 minutes.
A young woman named Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) washes up on the shore of a tropical island with her friend Brad (Benedict Samuel), who is dying. In spite of a valiant attempt to keep Brad alive, Jenn ultimately can’t prevent his death and finds herself alone on the island. We don’t know what happened to Jenn and Brad’s boat, where they were going, or much of anything else. (We don’t even learn Jenn’s name until much later.) We know all we need to know: Jenn is on an island with little food or water, and she’s probably not alone.
Because this is a horror movie, we know that starvation isn’t Jenn’s ultimate concern, but for now, basic survival is of prime importance. Although we know very little about her, we soon learn that Jenn is smart, has some survival skills, makes good decisions, and is very observant. Not all of her ideas work, but most of them do, until she begins to hear sounds at night, indisputable evidence that she’s not alone.
From looking at several online reviews on social media, I’ve discovered that some viewers found the movie too slow, especially at the beginning. It’s true that the movie contains scant dialogue, but there’s always something happening onscreen. We know we’re in a horror movie, yet the gorgeous cinematography by Stefan Duscio almost lulls us into believing that nothing threatening can ever happen in such an idyllic location. Director J. D. Dillard does a marvelous job of sustaining fear and dread, not only visually, but also through a superb use of sound. Dillard also understands that his audience must gather its information as Jenn does, slowly, piecing things together until she (and we) understand the enormity of the terror facing her.
Sweetheart is a wonderful slow burn of tension and anxiety, but introduces an element (or two) in the third act that weakens the film somewhat. Yet without that element, the explanation of the film’s title and several thematic threads would be lost. I admire the creators for how they pulled this off, for these threads give the final moments of the film an enormous amount of power and impact. I won’t speak about what happens in those moments, other than to say that the ending addresses much more than most horror films are willing to attempt.
Kiersey Clemons is tremendous as Jenn, delivering a compelling performance mostly through facial expressions, particularly with her eyes. Her career (which began in 2015) is off to a great start, and I look forward to many exceptional performances from her. J. D. Dillard is also on my radar, having directed the 2016 film Sleight, about a street magician caring for his sister after the death of their parents, as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone (2020) and the new Amazon Prime series Utopia.
As founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, Jason Blum has produced, executive-produced, or co-produced an astounding number movies in several franchises, including Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Insidious, Sinister, and Happy Death Day, as well as stand-alone films such as Whiplash, Hush, Get Out, BlacKkKlansman, Us, Ma, The Invisible Man, and more (and I haven’t even mentioned his television work). Blumhouse Productions is famous for producing small-budget films while not interfering with the directors’ creative control. Perhaps more Hollywood executives should figure out what Blum is doing and replicate it. If Sweetheart is any indication of what working with Blum is like, we need more of it. You can find the film streaming on Netflix right now.
Photos: Netflix, Movie-Blogger, Collider, Screenrant