Sweetheart is a compelling survival horror that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Featuring a strong performance by the main character and good monster visuals, this horror is worth the watch.
Sweetheart starts with two characters washing up on the shore of a deserted tropical island, after their boat sinks in the ocean. Jen, our protagonist, tries to save her friend, but he unfortunately soon dies from his wounds. After burying her friend, she wakes up the next morning to find a trail of blood and his body missing. She soon realizes that she is not the only predator on the island. Whilst trying to survive the elements, she finds she must also fend off this ominous creature that comes looking for prey at night.
Sweetheart is a really engaging story, considering there is not a big list of characters in the movie. I think it is the strong performance of Kiersey Clemons that makes this such a compelling watch. For the majority of the film, we are following Jen as she searches for supplies and tries to survive, so having a strong performance was very necessary. They didn’t get her talking to herself, or include superfluous flashbacks, and this is what made it work so well. We weren’t spoon-fed all the juicy details, but the silence hung heavy, creating a tense atmosphere. I think a lot of film productions could benefit from giving dialogue a rest. There is something truly powerful with absolute silence, that cannot be replicated by music.
There are some emotional moments added to Sweetheart, especially when the other characters speak or refer to her, but they never feel trite. They offer little glimpses to the character of Jen outside of this survival story and explain the reactions to her claims about the monster that would seem confusing without that. There are just enough breadcrumbs to add depth, but do not overwhelm the story with undue emotion.
This performance was also enhanced by the fact that, though her survival skills weren’t strong, she was competent enough to learn from her mistakes and use the tools available to her to keep herself fed and make traps. So often when a female character is in a precarious situation, they are shown as helpless and/or stupid, so it was good to see that they decided against this route. Considering this a Blumhouse production, I should have expected as much, as they don’t go for the usual tropes or clichés.
Now about the monster, even though they do not show the full profile until the end of the film, I was not disappointed by its final appearance, or the brief glimpses throughout. Sweetheart is a perfect example of how to get a monster’s increasing appearances right. Most of the time, we see the creature through the eyes of Jen, who was hiding in claustrophobic places such as a tree log or under a canopy built over a ditch. This slow and calculated unveiling of the monster, adds the needed atmosphere of dread in Sweetheart. Though perhaps the best scene of this monster was its first appearance, where it is shown under the glow of a flare descending to the sea after failing to signal a passing plane. The double despair captured at this moment, only enhances this scene, that drips with terror.
When we do see in all its full glory, it was properly terrifying. Definitely not something I would want to meet in a dark alley for sure, and I would like to attribute this to reliance on practical rather than special effects. You could argue that it was a bit derivative, as it clearly had inspiration from Creature from the Black Lagoon and the final scene was very reminiscent of Predator. However, I felt this was a purposeful imitation done with love, rather than being lazy creativity.
But there were a few things that bugged me about the story, that were never really fully explored or explained in Sweetheart. Later on in the story, some other survivors arrive, and it is clear that they were up to some unscrupulous things. There are shots of blood where it shouldn’t be, and we never get an explanation for it. It felt as though something that was in the original story had been cut out. Though I have not seen any references online that suggest that, so I am not sure why they included those scenes in the story at all. However, it is not so integral to the story of Sweetheart that it diminishes it.
However, it is clear that some of these scenes (apart from the mysterious blood), were there to add subtle messages of class, misogyny and white privilege. You can clearly see this as these are the only scenes where Jen is referred to as sweetheart. Adding parallels between her survival on this island and her survival in the real world, it is a nice touch that gives meaning to the usual disbelief that happens when only one person has seen the creature. It adds a bit of the real world to this drama and gives more insight to Jen as a character, but never forgets the core story that is survival from the horror that stalks at night.
Sweetheart is tight, solid survival horror that avoids all the usual annoyances that come with this sub-genre. It is a creature-feature that does not disappoint in its story or visual effects. Not quite a classic in the making, however I can definitely see it being referenced as one of the better modern creature feature films.