Sundance Review: SWEETHEART Is A Good Thriller With A Horrible Title

Straight-up creature feature fun, right here.

Sometimes all you need is a good premise. Have an idea, stick to it, keep things simple, keep it short. Blumhouse knows what I’m talking about.

J.D. Dillar and Blumhouse’s Sweetheart offers a perfect example of greatness through simplicity. The film is about a girl named Jenn (Hearts Beat Loud’s Kiersey Clemons) who washes ashore a desolate island in the middle of the ocean. The film doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on her Cast Away survival shenanigans as it soon becomes clear there is a monster that arises from the ocean each night, hungry for prey. Jenn has to figure out a way to survive the monster. That’s it. That’s the movie. It’s delightful.

This is a hard role for Clemons. Jenn doesn’t have a volleyball to converse with and spends most of the movie silently figuring things out, which means Clemons has to convey a lot of information nonverbally. The film is well directed and shot, but that doesn’t mean the role’s success is a foregone conclusion. It takes a lot of talent to pull something like this off.

Having said that, the film really is very well directed and shot. It’s hard these days to make a practical humanoid creature without it looking silly. Sweetheart excels at using lighting to its advantage. This is a dark movie, but it’s one of the few that really uses that darkness to a purpose. When Jenn runs from the monster, we can feel her loss of visual sense. It’s lit just enough that we can understand what is happening, but dark enough that we’re right there with her in the middle of nowhere, with no lights except the moon, being hunted by a creature she still hasn’t fully seen. The monster is faster in water than on land, so it repeatedly swims alongside her, leaping out when it thinks the time is right. We can never be fully sure where it is in relation to her, and the effect is both scary and exhilarating.

It also helps that the creature sounds incredible. Dillard and his team do a great job of making the creature sound big and threatening without resorting to an unnatural sound palette, which means whatever this thing is, it feels real enough.

Eventually, we do have to see the darn monster, though. Luckily, the work done building up to the big reveal helps pre-sell us on the design. Out of context, it might be a bit silly looking, but the concept is interesting and even exposed it never stops feeling like a dangerous creature. You never get a luxurious, detailed look at it, but Dillard doesn't cop out either.

There are no deeper themes or side explorations in Sweetheart. What you see is what you get. The film’s plot mechanics aren’t all that exciting as there can really only be one or two ways for things to go down. Nevertheless, it is a blast watching it all play out. And at just over 80 minutes, you don’t have much time to ponder what’s coming next anyway. The smallness of the film keeps it from being much more than a fun ride, but there is nothing inherently wrong with that, especially when it’s this well executed.

And if nothing else, here is a film with a young female lead - not just lead but pretty much the only character - whose sole purpose is to survive at any cost, even if it means getting proactively aggressive. This is also true of the lead in The Hole in the Ground (this film actually could have been called The Hole in the Ocean). I find the trend truly exciting and hope it keeps growing.