Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Shana Feste
Writer: Shana Feste, Keith Josef Adkins, and Kellee Terrell
Cast: Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbaek, Clark Gregg, Dayo Okeniyi, Shohreh Aghdashloo
By Tom Moore
The leadup to the release of Shana Feste’s new film “Run Sweetheart Run” has been everything but smooth. After its world premiere at Sundance in 2020, the film’s planned spring/summer theatrical release was upended by COVID leading the film to be shelved for quite some time. Seriously, I remember seeing the first trailer for “Run Sweetheart Run” in the previews for “The Hunt” right before theaters shut down. However, it finally got new life on Prime Video and after nearly two years since its premiere, “Run Sweetheart Run” is finally here, and it was very much worth the wait.
The film follows Cherie (Ella Balinska), a single mother and pre-law student who gets set up on a work date by her boss (Clark Gregg) with a handsome client named Ethan (Pilou Asbaek). At first, Cherie and Ethan’s date goes perfectly, even to the point where Cherie agrees to stay the night for another drink and maybe more. However, once they get back, Ethan becomes something much more monstrous, sending Cherie on a run for her life across dingy parts of Los Angeles. If she can survive the night, Ethan says that she’ll be free to go, but Ethan’s hunger for blood and Cherie being fresh prey ignite a horrifying cat and mouse game.
Feste’s direction in “Run Sweetheart Run” is absolutely immaculate throughout as she confidently nails the opening as well as the big shift into horror. At first, the film feels like your favorite rom com is playing out as Cherie and Ethan have this chemistry that’s warm and easy to love. The spark in their conversations feels real, and you feel deeply drawn into their dynamic because of how good the vibes are. It’s like instant sparks happening before your eyes, and Balinska and Asbaek’s performances along with Feste’s vision make this an incredibly fun start. Truthfully though, what makes the opening so great is how it’s really this great ruse that eventually shocks you when Cherie and Ethan return to his house and he gives this startling look into the camera.
“Run Sweetheart Run’s” turn into horror is undeniably epic mainly because of the stylistic choices that Feste shows and utilizes throughout the film. Ethan’s fourth-wall breaking moments that even see him direct the camera are chilling and evoke this disturbing sense of power he has. The big “RUN” text that’s plastered on-screen when things are about to get real perfectly and often kicks off some of the best sequences in the film. Feste’s horror direction is superb throughout with how she characterizes Ethan and keeps him mysterious. With viewers never really seeing what he does to Cherie or allowing them to fully understand what he is for a while; Ethan remains terrifying, with Feste crafting these great scares and thrilling chase sequences that keep your pulse racing.
Balinska and Asbaek elevate the horror and thrills through their performances making their characters incredibly engaging. The sense of fear and adrenaline that Cherie has in trying to escape Ethan and being horrified by his presence is made super connective and real by Balinska’s performance. The energy and emotion she brings really immerses you into certain moments while she’s on the run. Furthermore, she’s able to keep the parts of Cherie’s personality from the opening present as she desperately fights for her life. Plus, when the film sees Cherie start to go on the offensive and become a strong force, Balinska absolutely thrives and heightens the empowering feel of Cherie starting to turn the tables.
Asbaek’s performance as Ethan is a real threat though and shows plenty of potential to be an instant classic horror villain. The devilish charm and crude power that Asbaek brings makes Ethan a compelling character that literally commands the screen at times. One second, he can be a narcissistic goofball and the next, he could be at Cherie’s throat in a sadistic manner. Asbaek really gives the performance his all, which is what makes Ethan both a ton of fun and immensely scary.
“Run Sweetheart Run” also features an engaging and strongly thematic story that evokes some fun and realistic terror. The film establishes a heavy yet relevant tone on how women are treated with the various missing person signs shown throughout the film, Cherie’s personal struggles with men both personally and professionally, and how Ethan views Cherie as he hunts her for sport.
Even the way that Cherie deals with her period throughout the night ends up being a strong way to touch on a generally taboo topic while also adding a heightened stake due to Ethan’s love for blood. Viewers are basically brought into a grounded horror world for women and it’s what makes its central perspective in Cherie so relevant and impactful. Not to mention, watching Cherie basically go through hell to get away from Ethan enhances the horror of the world that’s established and gives some good thematic threads through all the thrills.
Unfortunately, the film struggles to stick the landing completely in its final act as the reveals and explanations surrounding Ethan are overcomplicated and just plain strange. Personally, Ethan’s hunger for blood and ability to control people, specifically men, gave off major vampire vibes and even the reveal of what Cherie’s boss is for Ethan only solidified it more. Oddly enough though, the film tries to give a different answer that’s way too complex, out there, and unnecessary.
“Run Sweetheart Run” had all the great makings of a modern vampire story. Instead it chooses a more “ambitious” route that sadly drags things down and takes you out of the film’s great momentum. Don’t get me wrong, the finale still offers an amazing and empowering arc for Cherie, as well as some unforgettable moments that utilize the Feste’s style well. But, when it comes to the new faction it tries to establish in the last act as well as the answer surrounding Ethan’s origins, it doesn’t go deep enough to make the sudden reveal feel satisfying or warranted. Thus, the film’s bigger, higher power answer falls a little flat and the film can’t exactly nail its otherwise aspiring story beats.
Although “Run Sweetheart Run” can get in its own way, Feste’s ambition and execution of this great modern horror story makes it a thrilling watch. Asbaek and Balinska give unforgettably fun and surprisingly emotional performances, while Feste shows such confidence with the themes and style of “Run Sweetheart Run” that horror fans will be wanting her to return to the genre ASAP.