Lonely Hearts 2019, a low-budget British horror with a a strong premise and interesting characters, will prove too soft for most horror fans, writes KATE INGLEBY-PARYLO
TITLE: Lonely Hearts
DIRECTOR: Jessica Hunt, Sam Mason-Bell
CAST: Martin W. Payne, Sue Dawes, Chris Mills
Review of Lonely Heart 2019
Going to any lengths necessary to find romance, five singles embark on a new reality TV show hoping to find their perfect partner. Each must compete to find love as they complete a series of increasingly sinister challenges. Are the love lives of these contestants really that entertaining? Or does the production have a deadly motivation?
Written and directed by the duo Jessica Hunt and Sam Mason-Bell, Lonely Hearts is a mockumentary-style, low-budget British horror from 2019, which premiered at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival. The festival usually takes place in January and gives a spotlight to a range of independent British horror flicks.
Starting with a strong premise, Lonely Hearts is a mixed bag which struggles to get the horror started and is too soft even for the most sensitive of horror fans. Whilst the character conflict is engaging, the stereotypical depictions of each leave little room for surprises.
From the film’s opening audition tapes of each character, we immediately know the type each is supposed to be. Freddy is the conceited Lothario, Kirsty is good-looking and promiscuous, and Claire is the more reserved, alternative type. The group’s two older members and oddballs are Donny, the soft-spoken vicar, and Carol, the widow. Whilst the presentation of these characters acts as a witty nod towards the type of people found on reality shows, the characters struggle to beat their stereotypes.
This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if the film didn’t solely focus on these characters. The film presents itself as a soft exploitation horror film but is actually a slow-burn character study. Most of the runtime is spent observing how these characters work and clash with each other. It isn’t about the horrific things happening to them, it’s about the slow realisation that things aren’t quite adding up.
For example, one challenge the group is asked to complete consists of swimming in a river naked. When Donny (the vicar) refuses, the producer belittles him and threatens that he is under contract to oblige. It’s moments like this that the film starts to take a darker turn but also presents its’ biggest weakest.
This moment as well as a selection of others are supposed to build up some uncomfortable tension. The group have been asked to do a challenge which is a little out of the ordinary and when one of them objects they are forced to do it. Over time, this tension is seemingly attempted to be ramped up further with more uncomfortable scenes, such as when one of the group members wants to return home. The issue is the stakes never feel that high until the end. Would I like to be threatened into going skinny dipping on a supposed reality TV show? No. However, in the world of exploitation horror, or just horror films in general, this seems rather tame.
This scene could work if it was earlier in the film, allowing more opportunities to add deadly and more horrific challenges, but that isn’t the case. Whilst the scene is good at illustrating the power the producer has over the group, it isn’t as intense as it should be for this point in the film. Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time occurrence. For instance, the final game the group plays reveals some unknown truths about each of the characters. This is a genuinely tense and ominous scene as these characters that we thought we knew are suddenly revealed to have done some pretty terrible things.
It’s a shame that this scene has very few consequences and doesn’t carry as much weight as it should. Like with the river scene, it feels like this should have occurred earlier and been the gateway to a sequence of increasingly more disturbing scenes. Furthermore, whilst this scene could be used as an opportunity to dismantle the stereotypes of these characters and delve further it is left somewhat unexplored. There is also another reveal regarding two of the characters which allow itself for more depth but the exploration of this is still shallow.
Lonely Hearts is a charming British indie film with some good ideas but poor execution. Whilst the acting is above average for this type of film and the performances are believable the structural issues of the script make it increasingly difficult to build much-needed sustainable tension. The characters are interesting to watch but if you’re hoping for an erotic bloodbath you will be disappointed.
It is competently made but will be too tame for most horror audiences. Whilst Lonely Hearts seems to give some commentary on reality TV it frequently undercuts the questions it raises as it doesn’t delve deep enough. Lonely Hearts is currently available to watch for free on YouTube below!