[Sundance] Review: Blumhouse's SWEETHEART

It’s so much fun to sit down and watch a film you know little about. I knew our friends at Blumhouse were involved and it starred the talented Kiersey Clemons, but that’s about where my knowledge stopped on Sweetheart, a new film directed by J.D. Dillard (Judy Goose, Sleight). Sweetheart is a new, one-of-a-kind aquatic horror creature feature that gives you one more reason to be terrified of the deep blue sea.

Kiersey Clemons (Dope, Flatliners) returns to Sundance in a complete 180 degree turn around from last year’s feel-good father-daughter story Hearts Beat Loud. This time, Clemons assumes the role of Jennifer Remming, a young girl who wakes up washed ashore on a deserted island. The film grasped my interest from the get-go with an opening underwater shot that rivals the saturated aerial shots we see in just about every horror film opening. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good aerial drone shot, but it really was a nice change since Dillard could have just as easily given us an aerial shot of the island before we see our protagonist. Instead, we get an ominous undersea look that gives the feeling something may be lurking in the deep.

After Jennifer comes to, we see someone else has washed ashore and after an attempt to save him, she is left alone on the strange island. She clearly wasn’t alone before she ended up in this place, but it isn’t clear just how many of them there were, where they were headed, or where they are now. What is clear, is that Jennifer is now alone, stranded, and must fend for herself. As she explores the island, Jennifer finds items that lead her to believe that maybe there were others there at one time, but where are they now? As Jennifer begins to settle into that deserted island life, foraging for food and shelter, it’s obvious pretty early on that we are dealing with a smart protagonist which is another welcome change to some of the not-so-smart characters we sometimes meet in horror films. As she settles in for the night, a plane passes overhead and in her attempt to flag down the plane, we get our first monster reveal in one of the best, “OH SHIT” moments in an audience I’ve had in a long time. From this point on, it’s a battle for survival as Jennifer literally fights to survive. She maintains her wits and does her best to outsmart the monster, giving the audience every reason to cheer her on through the end. The film is peppered with some very well earned jump scares, giving it the perfect blend of tension and thrill. After a brisk 82 minutes, it all ends in a final showdown that makes me hope if I ever find myself stuck on a deserted island trying to escape a terrifying water monster, Kiersey Clemons will be there to have my back.

Sweetheart is short and sweet (pun intended), and succeeds in everything it came to do. Dillard gives us just enough information without answering too many questions, leaving the audience to figure out the rest. I’m a sucker for a good score and Sweetheart is backed by a synth-tastic slow building score, composed by Charles Scott IV (Sleight), that peaks at all the right moments. The minimalistic script written by J.D. Dillard, Alex Hyner, and Alex Theurer doesn’t hold Kiersey Clemons back from a standout performance; although she doesn’t say much, she knocks it out of the park as a young castaway. Tom Hanks would be proud.

It was so refreshing to see a female, POC led horror film and it’s exactly what we’re looking to spotlight here at Ghastly Grinning. We hope to see more from both Dillard and Clemons soon and we’ll be sure to keep you posted about when Sweetheart hits theaters.