In the contemporary post-punk revival of dark and austere synth, Boy Harsher stood out with a decidedly modern take on the genre. In the late 2010s, the North Hampton-based duo distilled their stripped-down brand of hypnotic darkwave through releases like Pain and Careful. During the pandemic, the couple, who met while studying film at Savannah College of Art and Design, made a short film and wrote its soundtrack, both titled The runner. But the neon-drenched project can’t quite decide whether to be a music video, a meta-commentary or a horror story; while the music remains technically proficient, there isn’t enough material in either medium to stay afloat.
Boy Harsher has generally confined himself to a limited palette, often to stunning effect. But the danger of this intense concentration that tips over into claustrophobia has never been more evident than on The runner. Whether diegetic or isolated, the songs sound sterile and flat. Tracks like “The Ride Home” and “Escape” are frustratingly designed to escape your attention, and the generic monotony of its lyrics doesn’t help: “Baby, we can escape,” “Maybe we can we escape,” etc. Though infused with more energy, single “Machina,” a freestyle-tinged collab with BOAN’s Mariana Saldaña, doesn’t prove its worth beyond a tightly plotted ’80s emulation. Still, there are moments that shine in their simplicity: the band’s collaboration with chamber pop artist Lucy on “Autonomy” is fresh and captivating, tinged with morning light as it rolls over the film’s credits. Opener “Tower” builds its protagonist’s mythos into a series of cool threats (“Don’t you say my name/You don’t want to know about me”) before exploding into a grotesque, splenetic column of horror synth.
In sequences dressed in the colors and sets of Julia Ducournau and David Cronenberg, the titular protagonist of the film, played by Kristina Esfandiari of King Woman, alternately seduces and murders a strange series of characters on her path to destruction. The psychological horror aspects play like scenes to be made, and the sexual and violent diversions of The Runner become more expected than transgressive. The film, however, achieves a certain thrill when it focuses on individual scenes of choreography. “Give Me a Reason,” for example, plays a little tame in isolation, but bursts into life like a score: hostile and hypnotic, it tensely saturates the movement of a love triangle in a crowded bar. of carmine. While these slower, more deliberate moments are rare, the interplay between robotic choreography and mechanical score shines much brighter than an otherwise muted background synth shot.
The duo began working on the project following singer Jae Matthews’ diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Describing the cathartic experience of writing for the title character, Matthews explained, “[She] needs to run away from all those disastrous situations that she herself has created; she is the ultimate self-saboteur. This desire for freedom is embodied both in The runnerthe film and the soundtrack of. The soundtrack succeeds with tense moments of electronic beauty, but it just as quickly slips into frustrating, self-destructive insularity. While the precise formula of Boy Harsher’s music has not wavered, The runnerThe soundtrack of lack of dynamism or a deeper expansion of their sound: it’s more like the musical equivalent of an idling engine.
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