Just Come Home: The Runner (2022) - Reviewed

The dark wave music duo Boy Harsher has amassed an underground cult following since their inception in 2013.  Composed of Jae Matthews on vocals and producer Augustus Miller, the band’s breathy vocals and spooky synths converge to form a danceable, electropop sound that has become well-known at goth clubs across the country — but what’s lesser known about them is their film school background, which is how the two members met.


In The Runner, Boy Harsher combines their signature sound with their film school sensibilities.  Impressively written, directed, produced, and edited by the group, this short film showcases the music of their upcoming album of the same name.  The nearly dialogue-less narrative follows a mysterious, blood-soaked woman (Kris Esfandiari) whom the viewer is first introduced to while she is running through the woods in a frenetic, dizzying sequence of handheld shots.  She soon reveals herself as a killer, murdering people who pick her up hitchhiking, seducing unsuspecting victims at seedy establishments, and recklessly breaking into homes in broad daylight.  This story is juxtaposed with Boy Harsher performing on an 80s cable access show, where both members are also interviewed.  The film is unapologetic in its retro flare, and it sets the tone brilliantly for the synthy soundtrack.


The Runner manages to say enough in its short 40-minute running time to establish a wistful, dark mood and bring the songs to life in a solid display of visual storytelling.  While the electronic music envelops the vast majority of the film, the moments of strictly diegetic sound are punctuated by important plot points that propel the film forward.  The silence always feels important, and rightfully so.  In several instances, the killer woman makes phone calls with a male voice on the other end urging her to come home.  “You don’t have to do this,” he says after a long, uncomfortable pause, implying that he knows about her killing spree.  He is met with further silence as she hangs up on him.  


There’s an entrancing, feral quality about the woman that becomes more highlighted as the film progresses, eventually culminating in flash frames of her snarling with a mouth full of sharp teeth, suggesting she isn’t entirely human.  The film slowly unveils the method of her vicious murders, which further accentuates her animalistic tendencies.  While she is portrayed as a monster, her sexual side is also emphasized:  she puts on a dress and red lipstick at the house she invades after seeing a red-lipped woman seductively dancing in a black PVC catsuit to Boy Harsher’s poppy “Machina” on television.  She proceeds to sift through a stack of nude polaroids of herself, one of which she throws to the side of the road as she drives away at night.  The lines between death and sexualty blur for this troubled protagonist with an undertone of angry heartache, and it’s a hypnotic, multi-sensory experience to witness.


Boy Harsher’s interjections throughout The Runner are varied and give the loose narrative space to breathe.  Each song features their signature sound, starting with the ominous, slowly building first track which crescendos to near-primal screaming, and then closing with “Autonomy:” a more carefree song featuring the guest vocals of Cooper B. Handy, which wraps the story on a more hopeful, positive note brimming with tongue-in-cheek 80s pastiche.  Some of the more candid scenes with the band feel unnecessary, but overall, they work well to build atmosphere.  During “Give Me a Reason,” for instance, high contrast shots of Jae Matthews drenched in intense red lighting are paired with shots of the female killer searching for her next victim in an equally red light-drenched bar — the color signifying both raw sexuality and inevitable bloodshed.  Parallels like this tie the two females together and are emphasized when in Jae’s interview, she admits that she relates to the murderous main character of her album which the film is depicting.


The Runner will be an aural and ocular treat for any Boy Harsher fan since it oozes their essence, but those unfamiliar with the band will have plenty to gain from watching this haunting short film as well.  Check it out in select theaters on January 14th or streaming on Shudder on January 16th, and bring home the original soundtrack when it’s released on January 21st through Nude Club/City Slang.


—Andrea Riley