When the darlings of dark wave, Boy Harsher, released their highly anticipated new cult banger ‘Tower’ around Halloween last year, we were given a rich cut, pulsing with deep and rebounding synthesized pangs from the start. It pushed through our monitors like the flesh gun through the TV in Videodrome. Seemingly, an unattainable high bar had been set. Then, two months later, ‘Give Me A Reason’ followed and soon no bar could be set high enough. As The Runner OST trickled out, bits and pieces of Carpenter, Cronenburg and Lynch’s influences were omnipresent. What then would become of the marriage between soundtrack and the ‘reckless...out of control...pure evil’ scenes splattered throughout The Runner?
The film follows Kris Esfandiari (a tranced-out blood witch) as she flees a motel, leaving behind a mess that could double as an abattoir. The destruction in her wake ruins the lives of everyone she crosses paths with in the backwoods of smalltown USA. Twice she reaches out by telephone on her journey to The Desperate Man, but his pleas for her to return home ultimately go unanswered. Literally, she doesn’t speak for her entire performance. Through television screens (portals?) in the scenes, we’re connected to accompanying, and seemingly unrelated, content in the form of music videos. Those, in turn, jarringly transition into Jae and Gus’ garage studio, where we get a candid peak behind the curtain to see how the sausage is made. Between these brief life out-takes, the new music and the end credits where their actors revert back to their playful collaborative friends, are actually the only engaging content worth watching.
In terms of a directorial debut, Jae and Gus’ The Runner is much in the same vein as Dali’s Un Chien Andalou. It’s graphic and immaterial showcases ability but lacks enough compelling content to do much more. Through a discombobulated 40 minutes, the film relies heavily on its strengths: locations, lighting, props, and set design. Unfortunately, these strengths end up holding a mirror to the film's weaknesses, highlighting a stark contrast between stripped back, one dimensional characters uncertain of their place within the scene, outside of James Duval who nails his role as the host. Transitional scenes, edited to look like VHS, loosely pull the viewer into a distorted and confusing semi-cohesive narrative, tethering us to the story via nostalgic anchor points rather than actual horror. We’re given the store-brand when we’ve paid for the name-brand.
The Runner tracks like the manifest content of a dream, plausible to the dreamer but a half-baked idea to the rest of us. Themes of escape, fantasy, loss, discarded people are woven alongside semi-autobiographical tones throughout. Ultimately, these divide the viewers' attention like someone toggling a light switch on-and-off again. The Runner doesn't conform to a traditional storytelling structure but instead dips from nonsensical to semi-lucid, arriving then to a perceived reality repeating as directed. Even classic horror tools, like a character disappearing off screen after meeting our protagonist, insinuating unspeakable violence, ultimately leave cerebral elements to atrophy. In short, the film flirts but doesn’t commit to any one thing long enough to do it well enough. A non-horror horror, lacking identity and the stamina to push through to an audience outside Boy Harsher fans, and even then, only just.
If you, as die-hard Boy Harsher fans, decide to follow your heart into this film, the aforementioned noteworthy moments won’t let you down. The new tunes seriously slap and the playful chemistry between Jae and Gus behind the scenes talking about their music and characters are genuine moments. If you’re going in wanting to see a horror, or even a film, you will be let down, six feet underground. Where The Runner unwittingly succeeds is teaching us that ultimately the heart can be a double agent.
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