Heartthrob is a teen thriller about an obsessed romance where a boy’s fling with a popular girl leads him to go to extremes in keeping her.
There’s nothing like the local rollerskating rink to kick off a new romance in movies, a trope perhaps done best in Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky (1976) and one that shows up again in writer/director Chris Sivertson‘s latest Heartthrob, a twisted thriller that follows a number of conventions in the genre, buoyed by a couple of solid turn from its leads. While it works hard to be what it is, a mix of tender romance and well, something far more malicious, it ends up a mostly uninspired experience with a few good moments.
Sam Maddox (Aubrey Peeples) just graduated high school, and like many others, isn’t entirely sure of her future, working at a diner for the summer before heading to community college. She’s always been popular, though has a bit of a reputation, one that always paints girls one way and boys the other. Through circumstance that involve a volleyball and the tragic death of a classmate, she ends up befriending Henry Sinclair (Keir Gilchrist), the class valedictorian and MIT-bound genius, who instantly takes a liking to her. Too much, we learn, as her summer fling with him becomes a deadly game of obsession for him.
Certainly nothing new, Henry’s volatile take on romance is one usually restricted to girls in movies, where younger women demand much of an older man. With Henry, it’s less about sexual domination and manipulation than pure destructive antagonism. Henry is very smart and uses his tech savvy to spy on Sam, learning private things that convince him she is not as in love with him as he is with her. More so, anyone she might have been close to before becomes a target. This is all handled with relative mediocrity though, the film’s second half losing most of its momentum as the game of sex and danger deviates from a genuinely earnest romantic start to a standard play-by-play of a boy gone well over the edge.
In this mix are the people orbiting Sam, including her caring yet hopeful mother (Ione Skye) and Mr. Rickett (Peter Facinelli), her soon-to-be professor and former high school teacher, who clearly is attracted. Mostly though, it focuses on Henry’s spiral, which becomes increasingly murderous the more he finds Sam drifting away. Unfortunately, Heartthrob can’t make this impactful. The story is simply too generic and predictable that it never really grips like it should. Where it does find its footing is with Sivertson’s often clever direction, mixing a kind of broken narrative with a flashback twist. He’s a good storyteller, it’s just the film has no energy, with a slow, meandering score and a listless finale we’ve seen all too many times before, ending on a disturbing and misguided message that tries to be controversial and will surely divide viewers. It didn’t work for me. However, both Peeples and Gilchrist are well cast and convincing.
Movie description: HEARTTHROB IS A TEEN THRILLER ABOUT AN OBSESSED ROMANCE WHERE BOY'S FLING WITH A POPULAR GIRL LEADS HIM TO GO TO EXTREMES IN KEEPING HER.
Director(s): Chris Sivertson
Actor(s): Peter Facinelli, Keir Gilchrist, Ione Skye