Available on Netflix! Also on digital download and On Demand!
Directed by J.D. Dillard
Written by J.D. Dillard, Alex Hyner, Alex Theurer
Starring Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Benedict Samuel, & Andrew Crawford as the Creature!
SWEETHEART had been in my Netflix cue for quite a while before I decided to pull the trigger and watch it. Now that I did, I’m glad I did and ended up kicking myself a bit for not watching it sooner. On the surface, SWEETHEART is a simple mix of CASTAWAY and THE CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON (thanks for Matt G. for that comparison). But while this film can be enjoyed on this surface level as a simple man (or in this case, woman) vs. nature tale, there is some surprising depth at play that made me like this one more than I thought I would.
A young woman (Kiersey Clemons) washes ashore on a deserted island with nothing but a few suitcases and the body of one of her shipmates who didn’t survive the crash. As she gets accustomed to her new surroundings, she begins to notice something predatory lurking around in the dark. Turns out, a monster surfaces from the ocean every night to feed and now that it’s eaten the dead bodies littered the beach, it is coming for her.
Much of this film is silent. We know nothing about this woman other than the fact that she is spunky and resourceful, immediately looking for shelter and things to help her survive on this island. When problems surface, she handles them directly and one can’t help but find her endearing—someone to root for and hope that she finds some kind of rescue. It isn’t until about halfway through, after we’ve been introduced to the monster and the woman has fought it off a few times that the underlying theme begin to show through. A specific line about not being believed when one is attacked suggests that the woman has experienced this type of assault before. The film becomes not only a thinly veiled metaphor for a physical or sexual threat—it’s vague enough for you to take your pick, but also for the doubt one faces after trying to tell others about that assault. It becomes a story about a woman who is attacked and then, because there is no actual evidence other than that woman’s word, she is not believed. It is about having a voice, but that voice remained unheard. It’s that type of simple poetry that resonated with me while watching SWEETHEART. It made the struggle all the more interesting and this little monster from the sea movie became much, much more.
Kiersey Clemons is great as the castaway woman against all odds. The camera is constantly on her shoulder through the entire film and we experience everything through her eyes. With her sheer will to survive, Clemons gives this film the spirit it needs and the film never lags while she is on camera. My real only complaint about SWEETHEART is about the music, a retro-synth style that I felt proved to be invasive rather than elevating the story. Throughout the film, the music pulled me out of the story. It seems the purpose was to give off an alien mood, but it distracted me more than anything else.
SWEETHEART’s pace never really lets up and picks up in intensity towards the end. The monster itself is a combination of practical and CG effects. Filmmaker J.D. Dillard keeps its screen time minimal and edited so that we only see it in quick clips. The more the monster is seen, the less convincing it is, but for the most part, it is kept in darkness and obscured by camera angles. The creature actually resembles the design of the original alien from PREDATOR, if you’ve seen any of the behind the scenes clips from that film. It is threatening, but the extended head makes it look a little goofy when the camera lingers on it too long.
SWEETHEART’s metaphor is pretty easy to see, but it never felt preachy. This is simple storytelling and filmmaking, but ultimately enchanting in its simplicity.