CFF 2024: SWEET RELIEF is What if Todd Solondz Made a Movie About 2020 in the 1990s

The film is screening virtually as part of the The Chattanooga Film Festival – running from June 21-28. Get more info here! 

It’s that time of the year again, for my favorite indie genre film fest, The Chattanooga Film Festival – running this year from June 21-28, both virtually and in person. 

My first film this year was a complete blind watch, Nick Verdi’s Sweet Relief, that feels like what if Todd Solondz made a movie about 2020 in the 1990s. The film takes place in a small rural town and follows a group of teenagers, twentysomethings and wannabes as a viral trend called the Sweet Relief Challenge is taking over social media. The murder challenge has those wishing to participate recording and submitting a video naming those they wish to die. They are chosen by the Sweet Angel, who in a fun bit of symbolism is a person in a grotesque rabbit mask, once he appears tasked the person who summoned him to kill or be killed. 

The primary thread of the film follows three teenage girls, Hanna (Lucie Rosenfeld), Lily (Jocelyn Lopez)  and Corey (Catie DuPont) who are introduced to the trend thanks to Hannah’s mother who can’t stop posting about the game’s dangers on Facebook and tagging her daughter to warn her. The opening has the three girls name checking their victims, Lily – her babysitter, Corey – a cheating ex and Hanna names her older brother’s girlfriend Jess (Alisa Leigh). From there we jump from the friend group who are soon challenged, to a corrupt informant who thinks he’s a cop, Hanna’s brother who is trying to be the voice of reason and Jess who witnesses something rather shocking while out hiking. It’s how all these stories all play out and eventually coalesce that really reminded me of the early films of the likes of Richard Linklater or Solondz.

Keeping with that 90s indie vibe, this film is a bit of a stripped down vision, with lots of dense dialog dumps, highlighted by some truly engaging and uncomfortably on the nose performances. Each player is tasked with not only paragraphs of dialog, but a style of delivery that feels conversational while making sure to drive the film’s message home. The script while playing with some rather hyper relevant ideas does so in a way to pull the narrative back just enough to make it less gimmicky and more generational. It’s rather immaculately played out how all the pieces and stories eventually come together, doing so in a way that feels organic and really stuck the landing for all the stakes introduced, offering up a rather satisfying conclusion. 

Sweet Relief manages to dig into the echo chambers and rabbit holes that ensnare and corrupt those naive enough to fall prey to them, without coming off as preachy or condescending; which is an accomplishment in itself. Verdi impressively weaves together a narrative that is equal parts warning and exploration, populated by some truthful archetypes rather than stereotypes. This was a hell of a way to start the fest with a film that was nostalgic and captivating as it was profound in its ideology. Sweet Relief is the best kind of homage that offers up what made 90s indies great while making it authentically a fresh take for a new generation.  

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