I love me a good creature feature. I mean what horror fan doesn’t? So when I heard that J.D. Dillard (director of the criminally underrated 2016 indie superhero flick Sleight) had a new featuring a girl stranded on a desert island forced to face off against a fish monster, I had to check it out. I’m not one for hyperbole, but, and I mean this wholeheartedly, Sweetheart is one of the best horror movies of the year and the best creature features I have seen in ages.
In Sweetheart we follow Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) who washes up on a deserted island that isn’t as deserted as she might think. The plot is pretty basic with Jenn having to survive on the island until rescue comes or she can escape while figuring out what to do against the fish monster. But listen, the plot here isn’t really what matters- it’s a survival movie like we’ve seen before, only with a fish monster. I actually take part of that back, this isn’t like one we’ve seen before, because Jenn puts every single stranded-on-a-desert-island protagonist to shame. She’s tough as nails and doesn’t take any crap, but also vulnerable and human. Jenn feels like a real person. Her humanity and resilience against all odds make her one of the best horror heroines in years. If anything, through watching her try and survive, it reminded me just how dead I would be in a situation like this. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even make it past the first day.
“[…] Sweetheart is one of the best horror movies of the year and the best creature feature I have seen in ages.”
You’re probably wondering how Sweetheart‘s the creature stacks up. Well, let me tell you something dear reader, the creature is phenomenal! This fish monster is one hell of an ugly, beautiful, force of raw inhumanity that we don’t get nearly enough of. Dillard teases us with noises that made my skin crawl building up this almost unbearable anticipation of its reveal. When we finally see the creature, we see it, and we see it a lot. Once that reveal is made, the creature becomes almost like another character in the movie. Normally, the more we see a monster in a movie the less special and horrifying it becomes, like you’ve been spoiled on too much of a good thing. Not in Sweetheart though. In fact, I wanted to see more of it. I was in awe of just how freaking amazing the design was. I loved this monster, and I mean LOVE.
The showdown between Jenn and the fish monster is a horror prizefight for the ages. It is brutal and intense to the point where I almost wanted to look away out of fear of what might happen to a character I’d grown to love. I watched this movie with a friend, and I’m pretty positive he got annoyed with just how much I was engaging with the fight. If I saw this in a theater, I’d have been clapping and cheering during their slug-fest.
With any movie, there are few holes in the raft- not nearly enough for it to sink though. After a while, two new characters show up from the same shipwreck that Jenn was in. Lucas (Emory Cohen) and Mia (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) are both serviceable characters and are acted well, but I just didn’t really care for them. I felt they distracted a bit too much from Jenn’s story and added this unnecessary man vs man conflict that every survival movie just can’t seem to do without. All that said, if you love monster movies, do not sleep on Sweetheart. You can thank me later.