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There’s a brand of horror I’ve grown fond of lately; a throwback, smoldering gothic type of tale that feels like it’s about 90% build and 10% payoff. Sometimes that payoff makes a pretty big swing for the fences (The Blackcoat’s Daughter), but more often it just reveals some simple, fundamental horror (The Innkeepers, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House). If reading any one of those titles made you roll your eyes it might be likely that reading all three made you groan. If you found any or all of them boring, I can’t blame you, though I don’t share that opinion of those movies. Still, I get it. These movies might not be your speed; paced as they are to (deliberately?) test one’s patience. If they manage to draw you in, however, they can reward your patience pretty well.

That’s how I feel about Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, a “Shudder Exclusive” about a young woman who volunteers to be a live-in caregiver for her rich old aunt, in part because the money is so good, and in part because she’s desperate to get out of her miserable living conditions. Said aunt (Dora) never emerges from the upstairs bedroom of her absurdly Gothic, four-story house. She never even opens the door when her niece, Adele, goes up to her room to drop off food trays or pick up notes of errands to run.

It isn’t long before shy, sweet, lonely Adele meets Beth, a pretty young woman she develops an instant crush on, and who is promptly revealed to be a bad influence. Not because she talks Adele into letting her come inside her house for a drink of water, or because she coaxes Adele to spend some time outside of the house to have a little fun, even though she’s not supposed to leave Dora unattended for extended periods. No, it’s because at about the thirty minute mark of the movie, she convinces Adele (a little too easily) to forego buying Dora’s prescription, anti-coagulant heart meds in favor of some homeopathic, over-the-counter bullshit. You can probably see where that decision eventually leads.

This is not a film designed to surprise its audience. It has one pretty good jump scare involving a small mirror (and, thankfully, no loud chords). It has some disembodied whispers placed at unexpected times. It is minimally mysterious. For the most part, though, it’s a solid, softly ominous drama about an unsure girl who meets another girl and thinks maybe she’s found love. It feels like an indy romance flick that’s just a bit off-kilter and on the edge of something more unsettling, until it teeters over that edge. And then the climax kicks it into a splendidly frightening free-fall.

Objectively, I think a movie like this has a certain limit to how good it can be. I don’t mean that as a criticism, just as a simple observation. I have no complaints about it at all, yet I can’t give it the highest accolades possible. It’s like a perfect soup and sandwich combo. It’s terrific, and yet it can never be as good as the best steak I’ve ever had, or even just a great steak, or a great jambalaya, or any number of other more satisfying dishes. But that’s okay, because sometimes I’m not in the mood for those other dishes. I just want an excellent soup and sandwich combo.

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Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl might be my favorite of this particular brand of horror. I like its 70’s haunted house novel trappings. I like its two leads. I like its patience and restraint. I even like its “love story.” And I love what it eventually leads to.

Final Grade: If you’re into this sort of movie, this could be the one that you’re most into.

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