The Runner [Review]

Boy Harsher’s companion piece to their latest record, the short film The Runner, does an homage to the pulpy and vintage style of horror films as well as some of David Lynch’s work that fits quite well with their music, but unfortunately doesn’t impress beyond that. However, regarding the album/soundtrack, it’s their usual darkwave synth-pop with some 80s flair, so… pretty good! 

Boy Harsher is a band I found unexpectedly back in 2018, and I have been following them since. Jae Matthews (vocalist) and Augustus Muller (producer) formed the band in 2013 and have covered genres like darkwave, electropop, minimal wave, and EBM (electronic body music). Each of their records sounds unlike the other, mainly because they incorporate variations of electronic patterns and contort dance music with different drums, synths, and high-octane vocals by Matthews. Albeit, what makes them different compared to other bands is how they draw heavily on films, particularly avant-garde and experimental pictures (David Lynch, Kenneth Anger, and Alejandro Jodorowsky). You see the references and similarities to those directors’ works in the visual imagery of Boy Harsher’s music videos. It also helps that both members have a background in filmmaking, both composing and directing. So, when I heard they were doing an album/horror short combination, I wasn’t surprised. 

I was excited to see what they would come up with since their last record, Careful, was exhilarating; they’d focused more on the 80s synthpop style of music with their usual dark ambient-esque soundscape. Written, directed, edited, and composed by Boy Harsher, The Runner is a short film about a woman who escapes from a massacre in a motel bedroom. Now, it is evident that Lynch and the avant-garde movement inspired the duo to make the movie since it references Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, and other works, albeit it is hard to decipher what they want to say. It’s almost illogical; the narrative itself doesn’t seem to have any reason other than the purpose of having a visual style that would sell Boy Harsher’s new record of the same name. Nothing is ever explained in the tracks or the short’s script, which takes you out of the 80s pulpy atmosphere the band is setting up with the exploitation-esque visuals and dark-wave synth instrumentals. In addition, its pacing goes way too fast and doesn’t give a break for the story or the music to breathe. 

As a fan of the band, I went with it, mainly for the music (and because it’s Kristina Esfandiari of King Woman in the lead). However, if we see it from the perspective of a person who doesn’t know them, it might be seen as a poorly-made extended music video. The short divides itself into three separate segments that are intertwined with each other: live band sessions and music videos, a documentary explaining the record’s theme and purpose of the short film (adding a bit more a self-referential aspect), and a horror film. After watching the movie and listening to the record twice now, I think it wants to show the inner angst and frustrations people (primarily the lead singer) go through in their day-to-day lives, as well as looking for an escape from their current realities. The record consists of the band’s usual dark wave bops with a more 80s flair, which is a technique many artists use in today’s age. If you separate the short and soundtrack, you might have an idea of the meaning behind the artistic choices. 

However, if you see the short without listening to the soundtrack (or worse, if you haven’t heard Boy Harsher before), it will arouse some confusion. To understand or enjoy the record, it isn’t a requirement to view the film; nevertheless, you couldn’t say so vice versa. The film is merely a companion piece to the record (music coming first), so it hurts the experience of watching The Runner. If an audience member watches the film without knowledge of the band or the existence of the record, he would be lost entirely, which would later lead to the viewer not finishing the picture. Although that problem is a weighty one, I still liked that Boy Harsher stuck to their guns and embraced that sort of pulp horror or grindhouse style of filming. That style is total eye candy music-video-wise and attached to those banging tracks like “Machina” (which features Mariana Saldaña and BOAN) and “Give Me a Reason”, it fits perfectly, even though the horror aspect of the short doesn’t impress and doesn’t add much to the record.