"Sweet Relief" [Another Hole in the Head Film Festival]

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Sweet Relief by Nick Verdi.

A woman's dangerous inclinations, a sadistic child killer, and a panic surrounding an online murder challenge reveal the insidious violence of a small New England town.

The Good
Joseph: I’ll give full credit to Sweet Relief for its ambitiousness. Writer/director Nick Verdi had a vision and followed it through, despite budgetary and other limitations.  

Mike: The idea of examining the underbelly and violent tendencies of a small town sounds pretty intriguing and Verdi and company give it their all with Sweet Relief,  showing us that even the most bucolic of vistas have dark edges.
Alisa Leigh and Adam Michael Kozak are the standout performers here as Jess and Nathan (respectively), a couple central to all of the diverging plot lines, with both coming across as real people and never trying to out act anyone they share the screen with.

The Bad
Joseph: Regarding the editing, many scenes start at a point where you can feel the moments just before when actors were standing still, waiting for the director to call “Action.” I couldn’t get behind any of the characters, and once that reality settled in, it became a difficult watch. The film meanders, and where it feels like it should draw viewers in, it instead left me feeling at arm’s length away, even when it aimed for more visceral shocks.

Mike: Where to begin. Whew. Sweet Relief has an interesting premise but not enough talent to execute it to very much satisfaction.  The different threads within the film never seem to come together which ends up making it feel like ideas were introduced but never fully explored, with them sort of winding up just “being there”.
Technically there are issues with the blocking of more than a few scenes with almost all suffering from needing a serious edit to trim some of the length and pointless lingering going on.  Sometimes it’s enough to establish a character doing something without following them for five minutes as they perform a mundane task.  Naturally it follows that mundane tasks by people giving mundane performances while delivering mundane dialogue makes for a rather bland experience.  
To complete the package, the bow topping this awkward affair are the music choices that are rather perplexing with all of it sounding like it’s royalty free, and none of it fitting the tone of the scenes they play over. 

The Verdict
Joseph: Sweet Relief ultimately feels like a mumblecore effort influenced by the work of Terrence Malick. It’s more of a meditation on social and political issues with some horror elements on tap than it is outright horror. I was never bored but neither was I ever wholly engaged. Verdi will certainly leave viewers thinking about his film for a variety of reasons, though not all of them might be what he had originally intended.

Mike: I don’t like coming across as a hater, but sometimes it’s tough love that makes someone step up their game.  Sweet Relief has a very interesting premise but lacks the technical wherewithal to present it in a satisfying manner, although Alisa Leigh and Adam Michael Kozak do their best to save the film, turning in some nice and believable performances, but in the end it just isn’t enough.

Sweet Relief
, from Nick Verdi, is currently playing as part of the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival which runs from December 1st - 25th.  For more information visit https://www.ahith.com/

Sweet Relief
Directed By: Nick Verdi
Written By: Nick Verdi
Starring: Alisa Leigh, B.R. Yeager, Adam Michael Kozak
Run Time: 1h 27m
Rating: NR
Release Date: December 9, 2023