×
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

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

  • Lionsgate Hires Lynn Whitney in Marketing

    Lionsgate Hires Former Warner Bros. Exec Lynn Whitney

    Lionsgate announced Wednesday that Lynn Whitney will become head of worldwide paid media, partnerships, promotions and consumer products. Whitney was formerly the executive VP of worldwide media at Warner Bros.   In her new role, Whitney will build out media campaigns for movies like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s romantic comedy “Long Shot.” “I am [...]

  • El silencio de otros

    Film Review: 'The Silence of Others'

    “Forgiven but not forgotten” is a platitude we routinely use to end disputes both petty and grievous, but it’s the reverse outcome — the mass forgetting of crimes and conflicts never truly resolved — that itches away at a post-Franco Spain in “The Silence of Others.” Soberly chronicling the ongoing legal battle of General Franco’s [...]

  • A Womans Work-The NFLs Cheerleader Problem

    Tribeca Documentaries Explore Gender Issues in Sport

    Up until recently, what it meant to be a professional female athlete in a world dominated by men wasn’t an issue that garnered high volumes of public interest, let alone national headlines. But that all changed in October 2017 when stories from the New York Times and the New Yorker detailing sexual allegations and improper [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content