The Runner: A beautiful, if self-indulgent, audio-visual album from Boy Harsher

Boy Harsher’s directorial debut, The Runner, is an intriguing project. The moody, Massachusetts-based electronic duo released their short film and its soundtrack together ahead of their US and European tour this year. It’s a beautifully shot horror set in the eerie prairies of middle America, interspersed with a meta documentary about the band’s recording process.

The film was screened at Cheetham Hill’s independent cinema, Chapeltown Picture House, by Manchester live music promoters Grey Lantern. It’s the sort of event the picture house is made for: left-field, intimate and requiring a quality sound-system. 

The Runner stars Kris Esfandiari as a conflicted killer on the run, driven by an uncontrollable thirst for blood.  She’s “reckless, out-of-control, pure evil,” a voice over tells us. The film’s dark, 1980s Americana aesthetic suits Boy Harsher’s music well: abandoned trailers, lone trucks driving down dimply lit roads at night, bars full of leather jackets and cigarette smoke.

The two halves of Boy Harsher, vocalist Jae Matthews and producer Augustus Muller, met at film school. From the opening shots alone, it’s clear that The Runner is less a tentative experiment with filmmaking for the band, and more an expression of their existing talent. It’s well produced and convincingly acted, especially by Esfandiari. It’s also self-indulgent by nature, particularly the behind-the-scenes documentary segments. 

For something that has obviously been made on a budget, the film’s moments of gory horror are impressively frightening and it strikes a good balance between shocking twists and dark comedy. Minimal dialogue – particularly in the bar scene – allows the actors’ facial expressions to tell most of the story and gives priority to the band’s music.

Boy Harsher shot by Courtney Brooke

Where the release stumbles, is in the documentary-style footage of Boy Harsher’s creative process which they frequently cut to. It breaks the horror’s carefully crafted tension and adds little to the audience’s understanding of the album or film. The duo’s ironic nods and winks to the camera, while sometimes amusing, break the film’s immersion and fail to justify their own inclusion.

When the credits roll, the audience at Chapeltown Picture House is a little surprised and you sense that they wanted more. The final shots show Cooper B. Handy – who features on the album and in the film – dancing in the back of a pickup truck. The Runner is frightening and well-crafted and, most of all, you sense Boy Harsher had a lot of fun making it.  

The Runner (Original Soundtrack) is released on Nude Club. Consider buying the album from one of Greater Manchester’s independent record shops or from the artist’s Bandcamp.

The film is available to stream on Shudder.