Run Sweetheart Run has two things working in its favor, the first being that any story about a woman attempting to survive an encounter with a man is already horrifying enough. Co-writers Kellee Terrell and Keith Josef Adkins, and Shana Feste certainly understand that. There are real-world problems women regularly face throughout the screenplay, such as being disbelieved when serious claims are made against powerful white men, fellow women standing by as men sexually harass other women, the police being useless, inaccessibility to menstrual products, and of course, the all-consuming nature of a ravenous patriarchal society. Feste, who also directs, exemplifies these micro and macro examples of women overcoming great adversities every day.
Run Sweetheart Run follows Cherie (Ella Balinska), a young single mother who aspires to be an attorney, but is currently a secretary at a sexist and racist law firm. Viewers meet Cherie as she informs HR of some unsavory comment a partner at the firm said, only to be shot down with the unoriginal spiel of how the firm is working towards being an inclusive space for women like her. Her day doesn’t get any better as her boss accuses her of messing up his bookings and is coerced into attending a dinner with a client. Cherie agrees and is then talked into potentially seeing the benefit of meeting the attractive young man. Ethan (Pilou Asbæk) is charming, rich, and seemingly perfect as he compliments her, accepts her intelligence, and reveals a soft, sensitive side at dinner. Everything changes when their mutual attraction turns deadly and Ethan instigates an all-night hunt.
Feste proves to be a competent director, one that Blumhouse Productions should consider investing in. The production house has had its fair share of criticism for not being an inviting place for women directors. Technically, Feste holds firm with solid directing, placing the camera in the right places to catch Ella Balinska’s raw performance. However, the film is doomed by a limited budget and perhaps other limitations caused by COVID. A vital element of the narrative reaches beyond the confines of its modest budget and weakens the impact of the final act. Without getting into spoilers, let’s say the film pushes the story of a woman surviving a man’s world to a realm beyond humans. No matter how capable Feste is, she and her co-writers cannot translate this key component effectively.
Feste said that her experience with a traumatic date and subsequent sexual assault inspired this film, and that can be felt with how honestly the danger to Cherie is presented. The film’s persistence in creating a grander reason for Cherie’s ordeal pales compared to the real-world peril of an ordinary man seeking the thrill of making a woman run for her life. That is terrifying enough, and with a solid script that emphasizes the societal structures that enable him, the other big reasons can’t compare and become too much.
Despite a fumble with the narrative’s execution, Run Sweetheart Run has one undeniable win: Ella Balinska. She is terrific. A mesmerizing actor that exudes effortless charm and talent. Her chemistry with Pilou Asbæk is palpable until the two actors expertly subvert that dynamic into something more sinister. Asbæk is very good at what he is tasked to do in this film. However, his most significant contribution is being the canvas on which Balinska can project her excellent performance.
The potential for greatness is indisputable. There is an excellent concept at the core of this film that is sadly squandered by restrictions that are not conducive to such grand ideas. Despite its flaws, the film has a lot going for it. Aside from the script and directing, Run Sweetheart Run has a fantastic score that ramps up the energy throughout the film. After stellar work on Oz Perkins’ Gretel & Hansel, Robin Coudert flexes his skills to create the perfect score for the dark game of woman-and-monster. At the film’s core is an excellent performance from a newly minted scream queen.
Run Sweetheart Run has a fierceness to its story that has to be admired, and paired with Balinska’s committed performance, the horror film is a must-watch. However, with minor adjustments to the story and pacing, this Blumhouse feature might have longevity in the pop culture-horror zeitgeist. The film’s inner mythology conflicts with the basis of the film, which is the horrific reality of women being men’s conditioned prey. Introducing a supernatural element undercuts the tension and horror of what Cherie is going through. This is primarily felt at the end because the film doesn’t wholly embrace that part of the narrative. Overall, Run Sweetheart Run succeeds at what it sets out to do and establishes Balinska as a star to watch. With Blumhouse as the main lure and the accessibility of Prime Video, Run Sweetheart Run will get a good run as people hunger for new horror.
Run Sweetheart Run began streaming on Prime Video Friday, October 28. It is 103 minutes long and rated R for horror violence, bloody images, language, sexual references and brief nudity.
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