American electropop duo Boy Harsher’s The Runner is an atypical, experimental Shudder release. It’s in the camp of Blood Machines: A narrative born from instruments and lyrics that create the atmosphere of an extended music video. The Runner ties into an upcoming concept album, which birthed a horror-tinged feature all of 40 minutes in duration. You’re in, songs grace our ears, clothes are stained bloody red, you’re out—but will the microburst of cinema be enough for audiences?
The film’s narrative component follows a nameless woman (King Woman’s Kris Esfandiari) as she sprints away from a motel bedroom massacre. Scenes cut between Boy Harsher (Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller) filming a garage studio music video and the girl’s continued journey, connected by the rhythms of each new track. She chases Lucy’s Cooper Handy out of a trailer home, seduces FlucT’s Sigrid Lauren, but eventually must face the monster she continually flees. Whether or not anyone survives, at least the jams are tight.
There’s something Under the Skin about it all, as Esfandiari’s shaken protagonist keeps charging forward. Handy’s hangabouter dashes in the other direction as soon as Esfandiari appears; Lauren’s companion for a night learns the truth about why Esfandiari looked so horrified at the start. There are only two moments of emphasized gore as a hand pushes through another body’s flesh like it’s cheap latex, which is all the available genre influence. Otherwise, we’re here for a lyrical journey into Matthews’ vocal abyss while Muller pounds the synth in a gimp mask.
If you’re into the mood, The Runner should be a breezy blow through personal terrors sung with passionate abandon. When asked in an interview scene, Matthews defines Esfandiari’s “The Runner” as “reckless, out of control and pure evil.” At this point, Boy Harsher’s poetic lyrics and the film’s minimalist escapism unite as Matthews allows us to see her as Esfandiari’s “monster” through reflection. “There’s a human side to her too, and I hate to say it, but I can kind of relate.” Metaphors throughout The Runner—vocalized or seen—are never hard to decipher, but Matthews speaking her connection aloud remains a powerful emotional crescendo. We can all relate.
Although, I’m left to wonder if there’s enough substance to The Runner beyond superfans connecting with Boy Harsher’s artistry through a unique outlet. It’s not much of a horror movie, outside a practical showpiece effect. The video vortex angle of what appears to be a public access host addressing the camera never becomes anything more than a passing anecdote (I was hoping for a break-the-walls VHYes scenario). Some ideas are mere flickers, gone as Esfandiari keeps running, and running, and—the title doesn’t lie. We’re all running from something, but as a visual aid, I struggle with how much more value this Shudder exclusive adds versus an album playthrough.
I might recommend The Runner be saved for Boy Harsher’s most devoted followers, but at the same time, their Spotify numbers jumped a few more clicks after the credits ended. Low, low-budget filmmaking feels more like an album release event than a feature film, yet it could be the push you need to start listening to Boy Harsher’s darkwave melodies. If anything, it’s proof that Shudder will continue pushing its users’ boundaries by offering the unexpected. We appreciate a jog through the woods caked in crimson grime that pours an artist’s heart through stage microphones, although to what degree will vary from viewer to viewer.
Director: Boy Harsher
Writer: Boy Harsher
Starring: Kris Esfandiari, Sigrid Lauren, Cooper B. Handy
Release Date: January 16, 2022 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread to the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.