Sundance 2019 Review: Sweetheart Is a Terrific Creature Feature

Despite Sweetheart being a pretty standard creature feature, it still proves to be quite effective. One reason is because it features a strong central leading performance from Kiersey Clemons. Another is because writer/director JD Dillard crafts such masterful suspense leading up to its climactic finale. The premise may be simple. It’s a survival horror film about a woman who survives a shipwreck and wakes up to find herself stranded on an island with a mysterious creature. Yet Dillard is able to craft it so innovatively.

Buy Director JD Dillard’s Sleight Blu-ray

During the film’s first half, there is very little dialogue. It’s mostly the main character of Jen, played by Kiersey Clemons, navigating her way around the island and slowly discovering that she’s not alone. Once Jen spots devoured animals washing ashore and sees the body of a fellow ship passenger from her crash disappear, she realizes that a creature is in her midst even though she doesn’t see it right off the back. Due to a genius lack of expositional dialogue, we’re able to piece the puzzle together ourselves as well. Also, we get to spend the first half speculating what the creature looks like since it mostly hides in the shadows.

As for the second half, we get to learn more about Jen once two of her fellow survivors end up on the island with one of them being her boyfriend, Lucas, played by Emory Cohen. Admittedly, the first half is slightly superior due to its more psychological elements. But the film’s second half is still quite solid and is where it becomes more of a thrilling actioner.

But one reason both halves are successful is because they are both carried well by Kiersey Clemons. Because she spends a good portion acting solo with a handful of dialogue, she has to make it watchable even in her silence. Yet she knocks it out of the park. Clemons is someone who has proven her versatility in films like Dope, Neighbors 2, and Hearts Beat Loud. Yet she hasn’t been given an opportunity to carry a film by herself until Sweetheart and she does it flawlessly. Performances like this one are proof that she’s a talent that’s here to stay.

Another positive the film has is its tremendous score. The synthesized score provides shades of action/horror scores from the ’80s and along with the movie’s simple “creature feature” premise, makes Sweetheart feel like a nice throwback to genre films from that era.

In conclusion, Sweetheart is a fine example of how you can take a film with both a simple premise and a limited setting and make it feel innovative. It provides masterful psychological scares and has a solid buildup to its climactic finale. Plus, it is successfully anchored by Kiersey Clemons who, as previously mentioned, proves she’s someone that more people need to take note of.

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Matthew St.Clair

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