This film was screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Thanks to a recent surge in female-driven horror, the concept of women in genre films no longer feels like a novelty. So when a director chooses to make a scary film that’s centered around the female experience, it better be daring and disruptive. Such is the case with “Run Sweetheart Run,” a wild, twisted tale of female empowerment that is as political as it is terrifying.
After a bad breakup, hardworking single mother Cherie (Ella Balinska) is set up on a blind date with the handsome Ethan (Pilou Asbæk). He’s sophisticated, magnetic, and ever the charmer. When Cherie agrees to return to his house for an after-dinner nightcap, Ethan brutally attacks her. She manages to escape the grasp of this lethal predator, but only temporarily. Alone on the streets of Los Angeles with a torn dress covered in blood and without a cell phone or shoes, bystanders refuse to help because they assume she’s a junkie. But once the police finally arrive, it becomes clear that Ethan is very connected and everyone is against her. Turns out her date is a hunter, and he delights in spending the rest of the evening stalking his female prey.
Writer – director Shana Feste has created a literal date from hell scenario. Cherie is already creeped out by an unsettling Uber ride on the way to her date, and things get worse from there. It’s a story that will resonate with many women, as Feste accurately captures what many single ladies would deem their worst nightmare. It raises the “what would I do in this situation?” question as the leading lady calls on all of her will, ingenuity, and intellect to survive.
This story confronts toxic masculinity head-on like an atomic bomb full of social and political horror. There is a not-so-subtle, chilling commentary about people of color, particularly when it comes to minority women who are assaulted. It’s repeated that “nobody cares” about women like Cherie because people like her don’t matter when they go missing — and their police cases are shuffled to the bottom of the pile.
The commentary on rape culture and gender politics is strong too, especially because Ethan is a dominant male who thinks he’s in control. He snarls how he must “keep girls like you in their place,” even blaming Cherie for his predatory behavior because she dressed too sexily for a first date.
The end result is violent and bloody, but Feste’s choice not to show the worst of the violence onscreen may disappoint hardcore fans of the genre. But it’s scarier because of what you don’t see than it being necessary to show a man brutally attacking a woman. The sounds alone are chilling, and it’s just as horrifying (if not more so) to hear the attacks rather than witness them.
The film takes a sobering walk along patriarchy and gender lines, but it evolves into an empowering tale of a strong, badass heroine who refuses to be a victim and fights back. The story is simple and not particularly memorable, but the themes are where this film shines. Everything, down to the smallest details, are steeped in a deeply critical and political view of modern society. In a moment of blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cleverness, the gritty landscape of L.A. is dotted with inappropriate, sexist billboards that convey the hurdles (and minor horrors) females face in everyday life.
“Run Sweetheart Run” is a liberating, spirited, and inspiring thriller that will resonate with women everywhere. Power to the people, but especially the ladies.