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The Runner (2022) Review

The Runner isn’t really a movie. Written, produced, directed and edited by Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller, better known as the Darkwave band Boy Harsher, it’s more of a forty-minute music video for their forthcoming album of the same name. The pair met while attending film school, so it’s a move that makes a lot of sense for them, especially as The Runner has been picked up by Shudder, potentially exposing them to a whole new audience, including me.

The Runner’s horror elements revolve around a nameless woman (Kris Esfandiari of the band King Woman) who we first see leaving a hotel room occupied by a very dead body. After running through the woods, she gets someone to stop and give her a lift, despite her bloody face and clothes. When next we see her, she’s behind the wheel and the truck’s previous driver is nowhere to be seen.

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Mixed in with this are scenes of the band rehearsing and performing, including in a small bar simply, and appropriately, called Lost where The Runner picks up a local woman (Sigrid Lauren from the band FlucT) for a one-nighter you can tell will probably not end well.

The Runner isn’t content to just weave Boy Harsher and their music into the film. It’s a very meta experience, at one point the title character sits in a trailer after scaring its occupant (Cooper Handy of the band Lucy) off and watches a music video for one of the tracks from the album. At another, they’re interviewed about the album and film itself. They made themselves characters in a film talking about making the film they’re characters in.

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Whether you find that some kind of amusing cinematic Möbius Loop or simply the writers having their heads stuck up their own asses will probably be a good indicator of how much you’ll like The Runner. The other factor is, perhaps a bit more obviously, whether you’re a fan of Boy Harsher and/or Darkwave music in general. Despite liking Darkwave, I’d never heard of them before The Runner. I like what I heard of them in the film, and it certainly fits the film’s mood and images.

Jae Matthews says the film and songs were in part inspired by her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, combined with the isolation caused by the COVID pandemic. And I can understand were having to take immunosuppressive drugs at this point in time could inspire some dark thoughts and visions, even if I can’t draw a direct connection between the disease and what I see on the screen. Those more skilled at picking up the symbolism of these kinds of things will probably catch what I missed, though.

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Feeling like one of those long-form videos we used to see back when bands, and occasionally MTV, were experimenting and probing the intersection of music and video, The Runner won’t be for those demanding a conventional film and not just because of its odd structure.

Apart from the band’s segments, there’s almost no dialogue. And while I’ve seen worse from actual actors, the various musicians in the cast aren’t overly skilled at conveying what’s going on with only looks and body language. But for those into the music and/or willing to take a chance on something a bit different, The Runner should prove to be an entertaining watch.

The Runner is available on the streaming service Shudder in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It can be streamed on the music-oriented platform Mandolin in the rest of the world. You can check the film’s website for more details.

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