Boy Harsher’s foray into filmmaking is a bit clunky, but The Runner certainly doesn’t lack for ambition or vibes.
Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller have been performing as Boy Harsher since 2013, releasing several full-length albums and a bevy of EPs and singles. Occupying a nebulous gray area somewhere between synth-pop and dark wave, they favor a pared-down, minimalist electronica that luxuriates in moody atmosphere and languid vibes. With their latest project, the duo have created their own short film, The Runner, in conjunction with a new album set to be released later this month, also titled The Runner. The album is being pitched as the “official soundtrack” to the film, although the two objects don’t actually function in the traditional sense of that definition. Nor is it exactly a “visual album” as popularized by Beyoncé’s Lemonade and the like, as the short flows between various modes that only occasionally spotlight individual songs.
The film begins with lingering shots of a wooded area and a secluded cabin before zeroing in on a mysterious woman (Kris Esfandiari, a musician who has performed under numerous monikers) with opaque eyes and blood-caked skin. As she prowls around the forest, the pulsating synths of the album’s first track, “Tower,” play on a television screen, before a cut interrupts the diegesis and introduces clips of the band in the recording studio. A further distancing effect is introduced with documentary footage of Matthews and Muller being interviewed direct-to-camera. So there are, essentially, three different narrative strands at play here: Esfandiari enacting a psycho-sexual horror story with supernatural undercurrents; a framing device hosted by Lauren Servidio that introduces various music video-style interludes; and what appears to be a straightforward documentary of the band at work. It’s a lot to pack in to a 38-minute short (several minutes of which are extended credits playing over outtakes). Most successful is a stretch in the middle where Esfandiari ventures out to a bar and meets a woman played by Sigrid Lauren (a dancer and performance artist who is one half of the duo FlucT). The pair flirt and eventually retire to Lauren’s trailer home, where this initially seductive encounter eventually turns horrifically violent. It’s here that the eerie, atmospheric music and genre-infused imagery manage to work in tandem, briefly becoming more than the sum of their parts. It certainly doesn’t hurt that synthesizers and slashers have gone together for decades, thanks to John Carpenter (an obvious influence on Boy Harsher’s sound). But more often than not, the constant flitting from format to format frustrates rather than elucidates.
Another segment features musician Mariana Saldana (best known as part of BOAN and Medio Mutante) performing guest vocals on a track called Machina, fully clad in a skintight, black leather body suit and accompanied by a bodybuilder striking poses in the background. It’s a pleasant bit of dance electronica, although it’s neither as ethereal or doom-laden as “Tower” or “Gimmie a Reason,” the film’s best tunes. The least interesting is “Autonomy,” a bouncy pop confection featuring guest vocals by Cooper B. Handy that plays over the end credits and eradicates all of the dread and tension the film has managed to build up to that point. It might very well play better sequenced at the end of a full album instead of punctuating an odds-and-ends grab bag of horror tropes, but here it sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, while it never manages to be tidy, there’s a lot to like here. Fans of Boy Harsher’s music will certainly be pleased, while horror aficionados looking for something a little outside-the-box will be rewarded with some killer vibes. At the very least, if Matthews and Muller ever wanted to turn their attention to a straightforward horror film, The Runner suggests that they’ve got the goods.
You can currently stream Boy Harsher’s The Runner on Shudder.