J.D. Dillard’s fascinating survival horror movie Sweetheart premiered at Sundance and was produced by the genre specialists at Blumhouse, who’ve made hits of smart horror movies including Get Out, Unfriended and Happy Death Day, and who also produced Dillard’s first film, 2017’s Sleight. Yet Sweetheart bypassed theaters entirely, opening exclusively on VOD and digital video in October. Anyone who stumbles across it on Netflix (where it debuts December 25) will find a lean, gripping story about a young woman (played with intensity and vulnerability by Kiersey Clemons) stranded on a desert island that turns out to be the hunting ground for some sort of sea monster.
Clemons is the only actor onscreen for a large portion of the movie, and she easily commands the audience’s attention with a performance that could stand alongside Tom Hanks in Cast Away or Robert Redford in All Is Lost. When the cast eventually expands, Dillard and his co-writers Alex Hyner and Alex Theurer use their horror premise to comment on issues of gaslighting and emotional abuse, much as Ari Aster does in Midsommar (albeit much more efficiently). The visceral thrills give way to a lasting emotional impact.