The Runner Film Review

Vocalist Jae Matthews and producer Augustus Muller have been making music under the name Boy Harsher since 2013, amassing a cult following with the track “Pain” serving as an underground hit that brought them to the attention of many. The bands sound, a complimentary mix of minimal synths inspired by darkwave and coldwave, is perfectly apt for neon-drenched horror that has become predominate within the more ‘artistic’ productions that lean heavy on atmosphere to seduce the audience. As such, when the band announced their first film, The Runner, it struck many fans as an ideal fit to highlight the band’s devious electronic dance music.

At the same time, such transitions don’t always work out in favor, however, as the two mediums of music and film are not always exclusively complimentary if placed in incompetent hands. Alternatively, the transition can see such projects only serve to appease the existing fanbase and offer little for those not ‘in the know’. Thankfully,  Boy Harsher avoids these pitfalls to craft a unique horror experience.

The Runner Film Poster

In order to discuss what makes The Runner a refreshing and inventive experience, it is important to touch on what the film is. The narrative loosely follows an evil entity running through rural America and leaving death in her wake. However, the production is best defined through its aesthetic and music – several tracks are performed in full. Furthermore, the use of brief interviews with the band act to give insight into the progress while also bleeding into the film narrative. Giving the film a deep sense of identity focused around the group’s music, this is highlighted in Jae Matthew’s own reflections on what ‘the runner’ symbolizes – a woman who embodies chaos but still maintains a sense of tragic humanity. 

The experimental narrative is supplemented by an ethereal flow and color pallet – alternating between neon-drenched dives, scenic outdoor shots and macabre scenes of bloodshed. As a visual experience, the idea that the film was made exclusively as a vehicle for the music is easily pushed aside – the balance of beauty and menace offering its own seductive appeal. 

Outside of interviews with the band, the performances are largely silent making critique a mostly moot point. However, musician Kris Esfandiari (King Woman) perfectly embodies menace as the unnamed runner – hypnotic and chaotic as she searches for a greater purpose only to have it end in bloodshed. As a special treat for fans of cult cinema, there is a cameo from icon James Duval whose brief appearance offers a singular moment of slight humor – a wonderful addition both as an appearance and a slight tone shift.

To admit personal bias, I have long been a fan of Boy Harsher and their music. As a fan, it not only met my expectations, it exceeded these. However, I was fortunate enough to catch this with a friend unfamiliar with the group and was pleased to learn they got caught up in the same hypnotic flow and mesmerizing visuals. 

It is wonderful to see this, admittedly, niche concept being brought to a larger platform via the Shudder streaming service – the perfect home for the delectably dark ‘pure evil’ Boy Harsher is able to craft. Whether you are familiar with the band and their music or not, The Runner is a sinister journey through pain, pleasure and the unknown.