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Boy Harsher’s new music sounded like a soundtrack to something. So they made a horror film.

Augustus Muller (left) and Jae Matthews of Boy Harsher.Jordan Hemingway

A lot of musicians kept busy early in the pandemic by giving livestream performances. Boy Harsher wrote a movie instead.

The result is “The Runner,” a short horror film the Northampton electronic duo directed and produced last summer as part of a project that also yielded an accompanying soundtrack album. Though the film — streaming now on Shudder.com and screening Feb. 13 at the Rockwell in Somerville — and “The Runner (Original Soundtrack),” out Friday, were rooted in the spring 2020 COVID lockdown, they were also an extension of an aesthetic that Boy Harsher had been developing for a while.


“We’ve always wanted our albums to have a narrative and a story line,” producer Augustus Muller says. “We were definitely exploring that with our last album, ‘Careful.’ But this was like a whole new world. I mean, just making the film alone was just such an undertaking.”

The idea of making a movie first took shape when Muller and Boy Harsher vocalist Jae Matthews weren’t sure how to adapt themselves to the livestream format. Performing club music from their living room, without the benefit of crowd reaction, didn’t sound enticing.

“We just never could find our footing,” Matthews says. “Our live show, we’ve gone really far in order to develop something that’s exciting for us to do, and we couldn’t really match that technique in a livestream.”

Also, Boy Harsher had been working on new music that was heading in a different direction than the songs on “Careful,” their icy and brooding 2019 album. Some of the new material featured contributions from outside vocalists, while other pieces reminded Boy Harsher of musical scores. Yet there didn’t seem to be a unifying element until Matthews and Muller listened to the demos they had recorded and thought the songs could be part of a soundtrack.


“And then we started talking about, well, what is it a soundtrack for?” Matthews says.

“When we were trying to put this all together and make a story out of it, we thought, ‘Maybe the film is the missing piece here,’” Muller adds. “So we wanted to use the film to sort of tie all those songs together.”

Making movies had long interested Matthews, who studied film production and screenwriting as a grad student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. That’s where she met Muller while he was studying film and sound design as an undergrad, and in 2013 they formed what became Boy Harsher.

With a sound steeped in dark synthesizer textures and pulsing dance beats, the pair began releasing music the following year, and relocated to Northampton, near where Muller had grown up in Western Massachusetts. After two full-length albums, a few EPs, and various singles and remixes, Muller found himself struggling to stay motivated early in the pandemic, when the band had suddenly become stationary after spending most of the previous two years in near-constant motion.

“We were writing this in a time where it was really hard for me to be creative at all,” Muller says.

Soon after, Matthews learned that she has multiple sclerosis, a diagnosis that added to the duo’s uncertainty about where Boy Harsher was headed.

“I got very depressed,” Matthews says. “Having MS was a real confrontation about the future of, like, just not being the person I was used to being.”


Ultimately, they channeled their doubts and frustrations into making music, breaking through the inertia by giving themselves an assignment to tailor their new music to fit a movie. Establishing parameters for the project helped Boy Harsher narrow down the possibilities.

“Limitations have always been a benefit for us,” Muller says. “It’s like motivation for us. But when things get too open ended, you can kind of get stuck.”

With a script written and the album nearly complete, Boy Harsher shot the film last July during an unseasonably cool stretch, mostly in locations around Western Massachusetts. Matthews and Muller cast friends and musical collaborators in roles for the horror narrative, which they had intended to split with documentary-style scenes showing the musicians’ process in the studio. In the end, they focused more on the horror aspect, which follows a woman — the Runner, played by Kris Esfandiari — who is fleeing from some unspecified terror, and learning that escape isn’t so simple.

“They really pulled it off,” says Esfandiari, a musician whose solo noise project NGHTCRWLR had toured with Boy Harsher in 2018. “It’s a very ambitious endeavor to be like, ‘OK, we’re going to make a movie that goes with our full record.’”

If the project was ambitious, it was also an extension of a do-it-yourself approach that Boy Harsher has embraced since the start. Matthews and Muller began by self-releasing their music, managing Boy Harsher themselves, designing their own merchandise, and directing their own music videos. Making a movie with their own know-how never seemed out of the question. They’re already thinking about the next one.


“We definitely want to make another film,” Muller says. “I think this just reminded us how much we like it. And we can do it.”

“The Runner” screens Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. at The Rockwell, 255 Elm St., Somerville. Tickets are $7 in advance, $10 on the day of the screening. Information at www.eventbrite.com/e/boy-harsher-film-screening-the-runner-tickets-230956405827