“Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl” Review by C.J. Prince
Perhaps we’ve reached the point where genre throwbacks are starting to take the shape of an ouroboros. A.D. Calvo’s Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is a direct callback to both gothic horror and psychological thrillers from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, an aesthetic that should be familiar to any horror fan over the last decade. Its ‘80s setting – which invokes some light commentary on Reaganism and social security – will bring Ti West’s House of the Devil to mind, along with Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, as all three films nail the look down. The story of a girl alone in a big, (possibly) haunted house recalls West’s film again, as well as his other feature The Innkeepers and Mickey Keating’s Darling. And the relationship between the two young girls at the center of the film is reminiscent of both Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy and Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth. It might be a sign that this nostalgia-fueled subgenre suffers from oversaturation when one emulation mainly acts as a reminder of other emulations, instead of the classic starting points it’s pulling from.
That’s not to say Calvo’s film fails at its intention; in fact it’s the opposite. With names like Bava, Carptenter, Franco, Argento, and others getting thrown around as influences by today’s horror filmmakers it’s natural to start comparing throwbacks. It’s a comparison that benefits Calvo, considering how out of step his film can feel with current trends. It’s a small, modest film, whose micro-budget (most of the money probably went to its soundtrack) means there’s a heavier emphasis on mood. That makes Calvo’s film too low-key to engage in any sort of post-modern winking to the audience, yet not immersed in its style enough to feel like it’s been plucked straight out of the ‘80s. Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl somehow carves a place for itself in the middle, a feat that makes it an admirable, if not entirely successful, retro horror film.
Teenager Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) learns from her mother that she’s going to go work for her Aunt Dora (Susan Kellerman) as a caregiver. According to Adele’s mother, Dora controls the family’s large fortune, and by sending Adele to help her dying sister out it might increase their chances of inheriting the money once she passes. Adele moves into the large, empty home, only to discover that Dora is agoraphobic, meaning Adele’s only job is to shop, cook, and fill prescriptions. Adele gets bored in no time until a cure comes in the form of Beth (Quinn Shephard), a seductive young girl who takes a liking to Adele when they meet at a bar. Beth looks less like a cool girl from the ‘80s and more like a modern day hipster plopped into the past, and her anachronistic appearance gives off the feeling of an a potentially dangerous outsider.
Adele, with her homely demeanor and wide-eyed innocence (played perfectly by Wilhelmi, who will hopefully get noticed after this role), can’t resist her new friend’s charms, and soon there are hints of sinister forces working in the background. Calvo keeps things vague, implying some sort of satanic connection to the proceedings along with a good old fashioned ghost story, but he can’t get past the hurdle of getting out from under his own influences, crafting a well-made independent horror film that continually hits a ceiling of quality. Compared to The Missing Girl, Calvo’s underrated feature from last year, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl feels like a slight step down, but largely due to the constraints of the genre(s) he’s working within. Still, Calvo continues to show himself as a name worth keeping an eye on, and his film bears the refreshing quality of coming across as an indie film that actually feels independent.