Run Sweetheart Run (Review) – Is Nothing Scarier Than Misogyny?

DIRECTOR: Shana Feste

CAST: Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbæk, Clark Gregg, Aml Ameen, Dayo Okeniyi, Betsy Brandt, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Brandon Keener, Lamar Johnson

RUNNING TIME: 97 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: After a date goes horribly south, a woman (Balinska) finds herself running from a dangerous man (Asbæk)…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Just before the world went crazy in 2020, Blumhouse debuted its then-new horror film Run Sweetheart Run at the Sundance Film Festival, where it quickly made a few headlines for its rather eye-opening subject matter, and how unpredictable its plot was. Needless to say, interest was high for anyone who read anything about it, but when the pandemic hit the film sacrificed its planned theatrical run and was quickly sold off to Amazon, who would debut it exclusively on Prime Video… and then, for two years, nothing. It just quietly sat on their shelves until any and all hype surrounding it completely evaporated, as though it were a total afterthought even though very few people had seen it by that point.

At last, the film finally receives a Halloween release on the streaming platform (a fitting enough release window, but what was wrong with the last two Halloweens?), but it so happens to arrive – at least, here in the UK – the same weekend as Barbarian, another horror film with, you guessed it, eye-opening subject matter and an unpredictable plot, and has thus taken all that hype away from this film, despite it technically coming first. Between the two, Barbarian is going to get a lot more attention – after all, it’s showing in cinemas, something that Run Sweetheart Run was ultimately denied – but make sure not to sleep on this one either, for while it’s not quite as scary or even as subtle as Zach Cregger’s chiller, it’s a fascinating movie to talk about, if not entirely for the intended reasons.

The film begins simply enough, as a young woman named Cherie (Ella Balinska, doing an excellent job of being utterly terrified throughout most of the movie), a single mother working as a secretary at a law firm as she trains to become a lawyer herself, receives a request from her boss James (Clark Gregg) to attend a dinner in his stead with an important client. That client turns out to be a guy named Ethan (Pilou Asbæk, having an absolute blast), a handsome and charming bachelor who quickly wins her over – but then, in a flash, things turn ugly, and Cherie finds herself running for her life from the increasingly dangerous and unhinged Ethan, whom she quickly discovers to be far more powerful and influential than anyone could ever realise.

As with Barbarian, I feel that it is appropriate to not disclose any further plot developments, since there are things that happen in this movie which nobody in their right mind would think would happen in a movie like this, because they are not certifiably insane. I’ll give director and co-writer Shana Feste some credit, in that she is wildly ambitious in her ideas and parts of her execution, as well as for the fact that she’s just gone out and made a bonkers midnight movie that, no matter what else can be said about it, is never, ever boring. It’s also a pretty well-made midnight movie, with shades of John Carpenter in Feste’s stylish filmmaking, from some of the over-the-top gore to the synth-heavy musical score, but there are points where you can feel a strong sensitivity amidst all the carnage; in a couple of intriguing choices, Feste purposefully angles the camera away from the violence inflicted upon her protagonist, as a type of middle-finger to anyone expecting to see exploitative violence against women in this movie. Feste’s less-is-more approach can be effective, as it keeps some of the real horror in the imagination of its viewers rather than physically putting it out there, though at times you do feel that it’s only being done because they simply don’t have the budget to do some of the things that they clearly want to do (again, without spoilers, there is implied imagery in this film that is beyond what anyone would have thought a movie with this kind of premise would have).

The problem with Run Sweetheart Run, though, is that it could have been a legitimately powerful movie about the dangers of misogyny and male dominance in society, except it isn’t. Feste’s script, co-written by Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell, is extremely heavy-handed, to a point where any and all subtext just becomes plain text, with characters outright stating the intended messages like they’re being summed up in a 140-character tweet. As the movie goes along, and it gets wilder and wilder with its ideas and twists, it seeks to remind you at almost every corner that it’s about what it’s about, just in case you were distracted by some of the legitimately mad things that Pilou Asbæk was saying or doing throughout. It can get annoying when you just want to watch something that doesn’t constantly hit you over the head with its themes, and doesn’t have more than a few blatant moments for the audience to applaud without doing much else to feel legitimately empowering. It’s also the kind of movie that does bare quite a few holes in its logic, such as how certain people came to be in league with particular others, and why some things work against this villain but then later on they don’t, which does give away how it’s not nearly as smart as it probably thinks it is.

If it resisted the urge to be far too obvious with its social commentary, then Run Sweetheart Run would have perhaps been a more fun viewing experience. Unfortunately, it gets too caught up in its own ambition and pretension that it almost feels like you’re listening to someone screaming at you from their soapbox with a megaphone, and are being put off not by their justifiable cause but by how obnoxiously they’re delivering their intended message. On the flip side, though, the movie is wild enough to recommend for at least one viewing, but only if you – like most others – go in as blind as possible, because chances are you’ll be taken aback by some of the truly outlandish and unexpected directions that it takes, none of which are even remotely hinted at in any of the write-ups, either present or from its Sundance debut back in 2020.

It may have taken far too long for it to finally come out, but Run Sweetheart Run was worth it – again, though, not for necessarily the right reasons.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Run Sweetheart Run is an ambitious but extremely heavy-handed horror that hits the viewer over the head with its blatant themes and messages way harder than it ought to have, but the experience is wild and unpredictable enough to forgive some, but not all, of its overeager pretensions.

Run Sweetheart Run is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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