'Run Sweetheart Run': Film Review | Sundance 2020

Run Sweetheart Run - Sundance - MIDNIGHT - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Sundance
Lackluster horror with a feminist bent.

A young woman’s blind date goes terribly wrong in Shana Feste's horror flick.

If malignant misogyny transformed into a person, it would be the villain in Run Sweetheart Run.

When secretary and single mom Cherie (Ella Balinska) agrees to go on a date with a client of her adoring boss, things go terribly wrong. Cherie’s date, Ethan (Pilou Asbaek), has sinister good looks and is sharply dressed in neutral colors. After an unremarkable dinner, Ethan invites Cherie back to his place for a drink. At first she hesitates and politely turns him down, but she eventually backtracks. As the door slams behind them, eerie music swells. Seconds later, we hear screaming and fighting. Cherie escapes out the door through which she came with her dress ripped and her purse left behind. She’s clearly in shock and running for her life.

The movie’s premise has the potential to bring something fresh to the horror genre, and Balinska and Asbaek commit fully to their characters. But the script is flat and unimaginative; there’s at once too much information and not nearly enough that reflects how people actually talk to each other. (The audience at my screening groaned more than once at the on-the-nose B-movie dialogue.)

Even more bizarre is the fact that for no apparent reason, writer-director Shana Feste gives the hero who helps Cherie deal with Ethan the name Blue Ivy. (Is she using Beyoncé’s 7-year old daughter for clickbait?)

Every man in Run Sweetheart Run, except for a couple friends of Cherie's awful ex, is a vile human being. Instead of deeply flawed, Ethan is revealed to be a monster who lives inside a human shell. That broadness deflates the tension and flair in the film, and gives the other male characters permission to distance themselves from him, even though they may be guilty of less extreme forms of his abusive behavior. The result is that the pic lands as more satire than horror, presenting the most bananas, cheesy version possible of how sexism plays out in women’s lives.

Interestingly, a couple of years ago there was a dust-up when Jason Blum (Blumhouse produced Run Sweetheart Run) said that there weren't many women doing horror to chose from in hiring to direct his movies. He quickly apologized after a lashing from Film Twitter. Since then, Blumhouse has released a horror film from at least one woman director, Sophia Takal’s 2019 Black Christmas

But Feste says that Blum signed on to her genre project “before it was cool to give women an opportunity in genre,” making the subpar execution even more troubling. This is the kind of movie execs will point to when another woman director wants to do horror as proof of why they can’t greenlight her project. The irony is that pointing out that kind of convenient sexism, by which women are not allowed to fail and men get to fail up, is the main intent of Run Sweetheart Run in the first place.

The ending of the film is just peculiar. The women Blue Ivy keeps in hiding — like Cherie, they are all black and brown — show up in martial arts uniforms at Cherie and Ethan’s last showdown. Together they deliver Ethan’s comeuppance while making canned declarations about the power of women fighting back together. If we feel any sense of girl power here or in the rest of the movie, it's primarily thanks to the actors.

Although Run Sweetheart Run isn't an enjoyable watch, one has to admire what it aspires to do: tell a story about the deep roots of sexism in our world through the lens of the social horror subgenre. It’s worth applauding the risk Freste took, even if her attempt is largely unsuccessful.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)

Production Company: Blumhouse

Cast: Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbaek, Clark Gregg, Betsey Brandt, Aml Ameen, Dayo Okeniyi, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Writer-director: Shana Feste

Producers: Jason Blum, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Shana Feste

Executive producers: Jennifer Besser, Beatriz Sequeira

Director of photography: Bartosz Nalazek

Editor: ?Dominic LaPerriere

93 minutes