After being forcibly assigned the role of caretaker for her wealthy old agoraphobic aunt Dora (Susan Kellermann), Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) meets Beth (Quinn Shepard), a mysterious and seductive young woman. Adele quickly falls for Beth, and soon enough she begins committing heinous acts that would for her that typically go against her moral code. This brings Adele into conflict with her aunt, who she is already on thin ice with. Adele begins to go down a dark and unstable path, one that she might not be able to come back from.
Writer and director A.D. Calvo sets the gothic Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl in the Reagan-era United States, which gives the film a nostalgic and moody aesthetic. Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is stylish and full of character, dripping with a tense and spooky atmosphere as Beth satanically seduces the naïve and impressionable Adele. Adele is quite smitten with Beth and tries her best to impress her. From the beginning, something is off about Beth. She is obviously wrong from Adele, and it can be felt that she is manipulating Adele throughout the film, giving each of their interactions a sinister under tone.
Wilhelmi had a difficult task in portraying Adele. In order for the story Calvo is telling to work, Adele has to be equally reserved and adventurous, relatable yet frustrating. Wilhelmi plays with those surface level contradictions fabulously. Adele’s inner conflict bleeds through Wilhelmi’s performance, easily allowing her character to be sympathized with, even if some of her actions are pretty shitty. Shepard’s performance as Beth is equally as solid, with her aloof and alluring personality helping to add a sense of mystery to Beth.
Calvo treats Adele’s aunt Dora with a sense of foreboding and dread. With her character being agoraphobic, she spends the large majority of the film locked away in her room, separated from the outside world. She goes completely unseen for a large amount of time of the film, serving to only terrorize and act emotionally cold towards Adele, driving her into the arms of Beth. Calvo gives Dora the Jaws treatment, hiding her from both Beth and the audience, with her existence defined by a mysterious voice behind a door, constantly building the tension between the two over the course of the film.
Calvo actually spends a large amount of time of the film simply building tension between Adele, Beth, and Dora. The film has a fairly short run-time of 76 minutes, and yet it feels so much longer due to the time spent reveling in the uneasiness of the situation. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing. While a film feeling longer isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl feels 30 minutes longer than it actually is, with nothing to show for it. The film lacks any significant pay off in its climax, leading to that time feeling wasted. The fact that I found myself checking my watch multiple times throughout the course of the film speaks volumes to how it spends its time.
Once things finally come to a head in the film’s climax, the attempted horror falls completely flat. The ending sequence just feels so straightforward and expected, that one is forced to wonder why exactly Calvo spent so much time of the plot simply meandering. While the interactions between Adele and Beth are enjoyable, they are undermined by the fact that as the audience, we know Beth isn’t good for Adele. When the film ends up playing it fairly straightforward with that dynamic, it’s pretty unfulfilling.
Unfortunately, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl’s solid cast and admittedly great sense of mood and atmosphere fail to elevate the film above its disappointing story and severe lack of narrative punch. With a bit more narrative fine tuning Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl could have been something really special, but now all we are left with is a seemingly hollow experience.