‘Sweet Relief’ Salem Horror Fest 2024 Review: There’s No Relief To Be Found Here

Sweet Relief is a motion picture. When it begins, we’re led to believe it’s about three teens taking part in a murder challenge. However, it then shifts to cram in a child serial killer and a young woman following him. The movie attempts to juggle these three thoughts while also trying to say something about small-town life and mass hysteria. While these threads could easily be woven into a cute scarf, they never truly work together until they briefly intertwine for the deadly moment near the end. It almost feels like a handful of thoughts were on their way to becoming a few different short films.

I wish Sweet Relief had given more time to the teen trio led by Hannah (Lucie Rosenfeld). The idea of three small-town girls taking part in an internet challenge encouraging them to murder people is exciting on paper. I think watching them elect people to kill for their own petty grievances could have been a fun and dark avenue to explore. We are in the post-Michelle Carter world where a girl will encourage a boyfriend to commit suicide for attention. Random TikTok trends cause lesser degrees of harm pop up constantly. It would’ve also been one of the few movies that let teen girls be the problem. But this thread, which is the most interesting one and has the most going for it, sadly gets lost in the sauce. 

Also Read: ‘My Mother’s Eyes’ Salem Horror Fest 2024 Review: Beautiful And Questionable Chaos

Hannah’s family dynamics could, and should, be interesting dialogue starters. Her brother Nathan (Adam Michael Kozak) gets so fed up with his mother believing everything she reads online that he confronts the man she follows on social media, Mr. McDaniel (Paul Lazar). Why go to the man who posts these conspiracy theories instead of calling CPS? Or alerting other authorities that his mother’s gullible nature is adding stress to their already fractured family dynamics? Why doesn’t he do anything that wouldn’t lead us to another long scene that is ultimately just another subplot that distracts from anything that might be remotely spicy?

Nathan also lives with his girlfriend Jess (Alisa Leigh), who is on Hannah’s murder list. Jess happens to be the woman who gets entangled with the child serial killer running around this town. I’m not sure why she’s an adult Harriet The Spy on her off days. However, it becomes clear she isn’t ready for Gerald (B.R. Yeager) to confront her for following him around town. This leads to a comically easy capture only redeemed by her escape. Her escaping only to turn around and see that Hannah’s group has decided tonight’s the night to kill her was one of the two interesting moments in the film. However, it’s so late in the movie that it can’t undo the awful journey to get there.

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In addition to the ability to have too much going on while not having anything interesting happen, the movie is not good. I hate saying that. Usually, even a bad film experience has a great design aspect, or a performance worth noting. That’s not the case with Sweet Relief though. The sound is chaotically wonky and is distracting for the wrong reasons. The dialogue is fighting to be heard over music that sounds like it is reminiscent of 1990s Super Nintendo RPGs. The choices made for the sounds of people getting hit feel like placeholder cues that make me wonder if this movie is unfinished.

One of the most glaring issues though, is B.R. Yeager was never offered a belt or a different pair of pants during this production. So, as he’s trying to commit his crimes, he’s giving us a plumber’s view that makes me feel bad for the actor. I’m hoping it was an intentional character choice, but I’m not sure much about this movie was done on purpose. It left me feeling bad for the actor and made it hard to focus on what his character was doing. There’s no reason in 2024 for an actor to have to fight their clothes while filming. Whatever the budget, something should’ve been done to make sure everyone’s ass was literally covered.

Also Read: ‘Liminal’ Salem Horror Fest 2024 Review: The South Is Scary

Sweet Relief also has lingering shots that go on for days. This aesthetic sucks any momentum out of the movie. It’s almost as if people forgot the camera was rolling, and no one fixed anything in editing. This is especially frustrating because the entire movie feels like a rehearsal, and the cast lacks energy. If it was just a few actors giving nothing, it would be one thing, but because everyone muddled their way through this script we have to look at the writer/director Nick Verdi. If Verdi was going for a specific style, I’m unsure what it might be. I watched actors speaking at low volumes as questionable music and sound cues overpowered them.

I respect wanting to remind people that awful things happen in picturesque places. However, so many other indie movies accomplish this and do it way better. That’s part of the reason this film is a bit grating. Not only does it squash its interesting storylines, but also, in its effort to say so much it says nothing. Sweet Relief feels like an early draft of a script that never got the chance to live up to its potential.

Did you also catch Sweet Relief at this year’s Salem Horror Festival? Let me know if you could overlook its flaws and find joy at @misssharai. Also, let me know what your favorite movie of the fest was while you’re at it.

  • Sweet Relief
1.5

Summary

 Sweet Relief feels like an early draft of a script that never got the chance to live up to its potential.

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