J.D. Dillard’s Sweetheart

Blumhouse has been very inconsistent with their recent horror output (I’m looking at you, Fantasy Island) but I’m happy to report an absolute winner in J.D. Dillard’s Sweetheart, a terrific little monster movie that plays like LOST meets Cast Away by way of All Is Lost with a touch of Creature From The Black Lagoon, the black lagoon in this case being the blue waters of the South Pacific. For the record, I don’t mean to cheapen any original price of art by comparing it to other films that from which inspiration is drawn or call attention to the fact too much but I find that doing a quick mood board like that can be a handy way of drawing folks in to my review and, more importantly, the film itself. Anywho, this one sees a lone girl (Kiersey Clemons) wash up on the tropical shores of Fiji after some sort of shipwreck. She does her best to survive and gather food but when night falls she realizes she’s not alone, and there’s a weird ocean dwelling creature that snoops around after dark looking for prey. So begins a frenzied fight for survival and a battle for her life against this aquatic freak show that only gets more complicated when two former friends (Emory Cohen and Hanna Mangan Lawrence) arrive on a floaty raft. This is her story though and Kiersey gives a sensational performance full of life, organic vitality and genuine spirit even when there are long stretches with no dialogue. The creature is a hulking, slimy beast that just won’t relent, the special effects makeup used effectively to create a tactile, biologically believable… thing. Dillard makes his debut here and I commend him for incredibly strong work. There’s a brilliant and utterly terrifying scene involving an emergency flare lighting up the night horizon that nearly had my running out of the room, conceived and directed with great innovation. There’s a beautifully synthy score by Charles Scott IV that reminded me of Stranger Things, kicking into gear in all the right places to bring the action alive. It’s a terrific horror film with a fierce emotional core thanks to Kiersey’s performance, genuine thrills and a slick sense of wonder. I’ll end with a quote from our main character that stuck in my mind and proves that an 80 minute monster flick can have all the depth and introspect in script as any Hollywood drama: “For a lot of my life, I’ve struggled with being believed. The truth doesn’t always come with a receipt. Sometimes all we have is our word.” One of the year’s best films so far.

-Nate Hill

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