Sweetheart: A Creature Feature with Heart

Who do we have to rely on when the chips are down and we have to fight a mysterious creature while we take refuge on a deserted island? This is the dilemma for a young woman in J. D. Dillard’s Sweetheart.

Jen (Kiersey Clemons) has washed ashore a beautiful and secluded tropical island.  The boat she was aboard was in a terrible storm and it was obliterated, scattering herself and her friends into the open water. Once she reaches the beach, she sees her gravely injured friend Brad (Benedict Samuel) who isn’t long for this world, and he asks her a cryptic question, “Did you see it?” before he dies. Puzzled and distraught, Jen is now alone, and collecting what resources she can find in a knapsack and some leftover belongings found further off the beach, she sets up camp, waiting to see if she’ll be rescued.  Aside from the elements is a different kind of threat – there is a creature that lurks in the night, and it’s hungry. Jen must find her wits to evade and survive this unbelievable entity before it gets to her and any other survivors that may drift ashore.

Clemons as the plucky Jen

The night I watched this, I’d had a particularly hard day, dealing with micro-aggressions, passive aggressive criticisms and a general malaise that has been hard to shake lately. What I saw in Sweetheart was a young black woman, determined to survive despite the adversity placed before her.  I saw a young woman rely on herself and her knowledge, believe in herself when others wouldn’t and prove she could do the impossible; that maybe, just maybe, this black girl has had enough shit tossed in her corner and no monster is going to mess with her chi or her will to survive.  That’s a lot to glean from an hour and twenty-two-minute movie, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Dillard, along with his co-writers Alex Hyner and Alex Theurer, got it right. The vibe, the pacing and the eerie quiet in the blazing sun set the scene for a creature feature with loads of subtext. These three men were able to write a female character with a ton of appeal and an intriguing back story without making her a caricature.  Jen is a salve for those of us who have to endure working twice as hard as a woman of color; who have to prove we are capable.

Clemons’ performance was really, really good. Her portrayal was one of a woman who doesn’t wait to react, she just acts, fighting for her life against this intelligent creature. Looks like Dillard also knew where to put his budget because the creature was brilliantly realized. I don’t want to give too much away in that respect, but be prepared for maximum monster satisfaction. Check out the cool synth score as well, giving the film a youthful vibe amidst the terror.

This isn’t a review so much as a rallying cry for black women who feel powerless. Watch this film. Tell your friends and spread the word about this great indie horror with a black female character done right. Since it’s not being released theatrically, which is a crying shame, I rented it on Google Play, and you can also find it on iTunes and other VOD platforms.