×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Sweetheart’

A shipwreck survivor's stay on a tropical island is less than idyllic in this well-crafted if unmemorable old-school creature feature.

Director:
J.D. Dillard
With:
Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Andrew Crawford, Benedict Samuel.

1 hour 22 minutes

Stripped-down creature feature “Sweetheart” stars Kiersey Clemons (“Dope,” “Transparent”) as a shipwreck survivor on an uninhabited island that unfortunately turns out to have one frequent, unfriendly, nonhuman visitor. The sparing glimpses of the scaly whatsis and near-complete lack of dialogue (to a point) make this a reasonably offbeat wade into a familiar Black Lagoon. But despite decent suspense, “Sleight” director J.D. Dillard’s good-looking second feature is a chiller that’s not quite original or stylish enough to be memorable.

Clemons’ Jenn washes onto her isle barely conscious, though in better shape than a fellow passenger (Benedict Samuel) on her storm-downed pleasure cruise, who quickly expires. The situation is dire, but the heroine proves resourceful, quickly figuring out how to spear-fish and make a fire. She also finds signs of prior habitation: A campsite whose vacationers oddly left their gear behind — and more disturbingly, an apparent group gravesite.

The first sign that she’s not entirely alone comes one morning when the corpse she’s just buried appears to have been violently dug up and dragged away. Then while unsuccessfully trying to capture the attention of a passing plane one night, her flare happens to backlight something standing in the distant surf — something two-legged, but alarmingly tall and fierce-looking. Fierce it is indeed, making nocturnal visits that at first are satisfied with her offerings of fish and other food. But soon enough it come hunting for Jenn.

Eventually more members of her trip wash up. The survivors interpret Jenn’s tales of a monster as stress-induced paranoia. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before they realize they’re mistaken.

A long roster of final credits is devoted to the amphibious critter itself, from designer Neville Page and actor Andrew Crawford to a raft of VFX, prosthetics and other contributors. Yet as is so often the case with such movies, the best of “Sweetheart” (named after one late-arriving character’s somewhat condescending way of addressing the heroine) is the creepy, teasing early going when we see the murderous thingie in flashes or not at all. Impressive sound design makes the creature’s gurgling growl, as Jenn cowers in hiding, perhaps more frightening than the lizard-man seen full-on.

Character backstory arrives too little, too late. Still, Clemons does just fine etching a woman whose survival instincts won’t let her go down without a serious fight. She carries the film — yet one wishes there were a little more to it. In the end, this is just a straightforward, simple monster movie that could have used some added conceptual ingenuity or plot-twists in the script that Dillard co-wrote with Alex Theurer (also his collaborator on ‘Sleight”) and Alex Hyner. It’s good of its type — just not quite good enough to linger once the lights have come up.

Shot in Fiji, the film benefits from solid tech/design contributions all around, notably from Stefan Duscio’s handsome widescreen lensing, Gina Hirsch’s tense editing and Charles Scott IV’s ominous synth-dominated score.

Sundance Film Review: 'Sweetheart'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Midnight), Jan. 29, 2019. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: A Blumhouse Prods., Engineer production. (International sales: Film Sales Co., New York.) Producers: Jason Blum, J.D. Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner, Bill Karesh. Co-producers, Mark Katchur, Beatriz Sequeira, Phillip Dawe.

Crew: Director: J.D. Dillard. Screenplay: Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Stefan Duscio. Editor: Gina Hirsch. Music: Charles Scott IV.

With: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Andrew Crawford, Benedict Samuel.

More Film

  • Svensk Filmindustri SF Studios logo

    Warner Bros, SF Studios Expand Distribution Deal Across Scandinavia

    Warner Bros. Pictures has expanded its distribution deal with SF Studios to include Sweden and have their movies released by the Nordic major through all of Scandinavia. Warner Bros. Pictures already has a distribution pact with SF Studios in Denmark, Norway and Finland. Under the partnership, SF Studios has been handling the sales, marketing and [...]

  • Nicole Kidman Meryl Streep

    Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman to Star in Ryan Murphy's 'The Prom' at Netflix

    Ryan Murphy enlisted a star-studded cast for his upcoming Netflix movie “The Prom,” an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Awkwafina, James Corden, Ariana Grande, Keegan-Michael Key and Andrew Rannells are among the A-listers bringing “The Prom” to screens. “The Prom” follows a lesbian student in the fictional conservative town of [...]

  • Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Vaclav

    Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Václav Havel Biopic

    Viktor Dvorak has been cast in “Havel,” a biopic of Václav Havel, as the Czech playwright, dissident and national leader. Anna Geislerova, who starred in Oscar nominated “Zelary,” plays his wife, Olga Havlova. Jiri Bartoska, the president of Karlovy Vary Film Festival, will appear in the film as “Professor,” inspired by Czech philosopher Jan Patocka. [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    'Bond 25' First Footage Sees Daniel Craig Back as 007

    After suffering a series of setbacks, including finding a new director and Daniel Craig’s on-set injury, “Bond 25” production is officially underway. A new behind-the-scenes clip of the upcoming James Bond film features Craig and helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga at work in the Caribbean. The minute-long footage didn’t reveal much about the still-untitled movie, though [...]

  • (L to R) Marco Graf as

    ‘Roma,’ ‘The Good Girls’ Top Mexico’s Ariel Academy Awards

    The Mexican Academy of Arts and Cinematographic Sciences hosted the 61st edition of their Ariel Awards on Monday evening, where Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls” stood out among the winners. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cuarón’s “Roma” scooping best picture is that it’s only the second of his films to [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Already Pulled From Shanghai Festival, 'The Eight Hundred' Cancels Its China Release

    Already pulled from its prestigious spot as the opener of the Shanghai International Film Festival, war epic “The Eight Hundred” has been dealt a further below with the cancellation of its scheduled release in China next week. In a terse announcement on its official Weibo account, the film said late Tuesday that, “after consultation between [...]

  • Méndez Esparza, Fernando Franco, Villaronga Projects

    Projects By Mendez Esparza, Fernando Franco and Villaronga at Small Is Biutiful

    Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Que nadie duerma,” Fernando Franco’s “La consagración de la primavera” and Agustí Villaronga’s “3.000 obstáculos” figure among the seven projects to be pitched at Paris’ Small Is Biutiful forum. The closing event for the alternative Spanish film festival Dífferent 12!, Small Is Biutiful takes place June 26, bringing together French distributors and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content