Sundance 2019: "Sweetheart" Review

One of the hidden gems to come out of Sundance this year is Sweetheart. Shipwrecked on an island, a young woman must not only survive the elements but fend off a malevolent creature that comes out of the ocean at night. On the surface, that description may not sound very appealing, but the execution is delicious!

Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) has just washed up on the shore of an island that she learns is deserted. Along with her, Brad (Andrew Crawford) has hit the sand, but the large piece of coral in his side spells doom. Before she can grab Brad some coconut water (literally), he’s gone. Alone on the island, Jenn quickly assesses what she has at her disposal for survival. The life jackets she and Brad wore, a flair gun, and a suitcase won’t get the job done, but it will do. 

After exploring the island a bit, she finds the remains of what seems to be a family that landed on the island as well (both skeletal and their material belongings). As night falls, she buries her friend, only to find blood soaked sand and palm tree leaves where he was in the morning. As the film moves forward she finds that she’s not alone and you may be able to guess what happens, but it’s not as predictable as you may think in getting to the end. 

Writer/director J.D. Dillard has written a smart, female heroine in Jenn. She is able to survive on the island by fishing, cooking, and eventually finding ways to analyze what she’s up against in this nocturnal monster. As an audience, all we know about Jenn is what we see from the shipwreck, but Dillard also brings in more characters to give us some backstory on Jenn and why she may be the survivor she is. 

Sweetheart would be a here today gone tomorrow monster tale if not for its creative screenplay. All jump scares are earned here, and the monster is scary in appearance and sound. In fact, Dillard understands that less is more and therefore creates an environment that audiences can be invested in because our imagination fills in the gaps of things we don’t see. Clemons gives a standout performance as most of the movie is on her shoulders. Sweetheart is a survive the night(s) camp horror/thriller that belongs in and bolsters the genre.

Rating: B+

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.