Old-school monster action meets island survival thrills in Sweetheart, the standout new creature feature from Sleight director J.D. Dillard, which just dropped on Netflix. The Blumhouse film stars Kiersey Clemons as Jenn, a young woman who wakes up stranded on an island after an off-screen shipwreck and quickly discovers she’s not alone — she floated right to the home of a mysterious, monstrous sea creature.
Sweetheart is a cleverly directed film that makes the most a modest budget with resourceful staging and one heck of a leading performance from Clemons, but it also features a stunning creature creation — a towering amphibian flesh-eater that Jenn has to conquer in the film’s final act. But first, she has to survive her fellow shipwreck survivors, Lucas (Emory Cohen) and Mia (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence), who wash up on shore midway through the film in a mysteriously bloody raft (Dillard wisely abstains from answering that mystery, letting your head spin about what went down). And they utterly refuse to believe Jenn’s story.
Of course, they soon realize she’s telling the truth (too late) when the monster reappears and makes a meal of them both, dragging Lucas down through a circular hole at the ocean’s floor that appears to be the creature’s home. Now it’s just Jenn and the creature, with no one to define her story or slay the beast but herself. And she does so, handily, affirming her arc from the pre-island girl nicknamed “sweetheart” to the empowered survivor who cuts a monster’s head off with her bare hands.
With that arc complete — and with a hand-written account of her strange tale and monster skull in tow, affirming that her story will be believed no matter what — Sweetheart leaves the ultimate matter of her survival a bit more ambiguous. When we last see Jenn, she’s still on the island, now set ablaze, where we first saw her wash ashore.
But according to Dillard, the ending isn’t quite as ambiguous as it seems, and with the film now streaming on Netflix, it seems like a good time to highlight what the filmmaker told us about those final moments when we spoke with him at Fantastic Fest. Speaking about the film’s final scene, Dillard explained,
“I think some of the feedback that we got that obviously wanted it to be tidier was like, ‘Put a little plane in the sky,’ or something like that. To me, the work is there in every angle already.
‘If you find this note, my body’s either in the bottom of the ocean,’ yada, yada. She now has a badge of proof, so even if she gets on that raft and dies, there’s a severed creature head in there with her. People would be like, ‘Don’t know what this is, don’t know what happened, but it looks like this girl killed this thing.’ That story survives.
In terms of just the general survival story, ‘Just build a fire and maybe they’ll see us,’ the island is on fire, and it’s the brightest beacon that has been set yet. That story is tidied.
“Between the two of them, her only options really being, wait for help or hit the sea and try to figure it out, emotionally I can close it for her. She’s either going to get found here because the whole island is burning, or she’ll get on a raft and be found, great, or she’ll get on a raft and starve to death, and [the creature’s] head is in there with her, and they’re like, ‘What a crazy story, and we have this note that goes along with it, so this woman’s a badass…
I think when you really plug in to what her journey’s been at the end of that movie, and then what the circumstances are that exact moment, she has everything she needs for this story to end well.”
And when I pointed out that things were looking relatively up for Jenn considering the monster’s dead, the island’s on fire, and a plane regularly flies over, Dillard seemed inclined to share my optimistic take.
“Somebody’s plane goes over like every other day. She’ll keep the fire going. It’s all good.”