A good film, but it could have been great. It’s got strong performances and an intriguing storyline but leaves too many questions unanswered.
We review the Prime Video film Run Sweetheart Run starring Ella Balinska, which does not contain spoilers.
After it originally premiered at Sundance in 2020, Run Sweetheart Run found itself stuck in distribution limbo due to a certain pandemic we’d rather never speak of again. This October, however, Shana Feste’s cat-and-mouse thriller was finally released on Prime Video. Starring Ella Balinska as the titular “sweetheart” and Pilou Asbæk as the story’s big bad, the film follows a woman desperate to get away from a first date that went horribly wrong.
The film starts by introducing Cherie, a young single mother who’s working as a secretary in a law firm while studying to become a lawyer. In the opening scene, she is in a meeting with HR reporting a colleague for harassment. Of course, the HR rep is as dismissive of her concerns as he can be. Later, she agrees to go on a date with one of her firm’s most prestigious clients, Ethan. There’s a significant difference between the version that premiered at Sundance and the one streaming on Prime Video. In the original cut, Cherie chooses to go on a blind date her boss, James (Clark Gregg), set up for her, while in this version, the young woman is practically forced to go to a dinner “meeting” with Ethan because her boss was supposedly double booked.
It would be easy to forget you’re supposed to be watching a horror film during the first 20 minutes, as every scene plays like a typical rom-com. Ethan is attractive, successful, and very charming. Cherie is immediately taken by him. He makes her a terrible gin and tonic, they enjoy a fabulous dinner at a sushi restaurant and even go rollerblading together.
By the end of the date, Ethan’s only downside is his extreme dislike of dogs. But no biggie, at least he likes cats. Cherie had such a good time, she agreed to go back to his house for a nightcap. As soon as she walks through the door, Ethan turns to the camera and stops it from following them in. That’s the stark reminder that we’re not watching a romance flick. But we don’t get to see whatever violence he has planned for Cherie either. Too many movies fetishize female suffering and, by breaking the fourth wall, Ethan shows he’s a monster, not an exhibitionist. We hear screams coming from the house, followed by a distressed Cherie running out in a state. She’s shoeless, she’s bleeding and her purse is gone.
In many horror movies, walking out of the attacker’s house symbolizes the end of the nightmare. But for Cherie, the horror has just begun. She tries getting help from two strangers, but they immediately assume she’s a sex worker and call the police. The cops immediately assume she’s a drunk sex worker and arrest her. As she’s desperately trying to explain her situation, the police hear her, but they refuse to listen.
The whole film drums up the message that “nobody cares” what happens to our heroine. In this world, the authorities don’t serve people like her. Instead, they protect men like Ethan. And that’s how he keeps getting away with inflicting horror.
As Cherie is running through the city, she keeps seeing posters of missing women. It’s heavily implied they’re also Ethan’s victims, hunted by him while the whole world ignored their pain. To make matters worse, the heroine’s period starts right before going on her fateful date. And unlike in most movies, where periods are glossed over, Feste chose to make Cherie’s monthlies a central plot point. We see her constantly asking for a tampon. She even uses a bloody tampon to get Ethan off her scent.
Yet, she only seems to notice she’s bleeding when she sees actual dripping blood on the floor, which isn’t quite how that tends to work. Still, I found the inclusion of this particular part of womanhood in the narrative refreshing.
Pilou Asbæk and Ella Balinska are fantastic in their respective roles. The chemistry between the two characters makes watching the whole cat-and-mouse game between them all the more enjoyable. Clark Gregg does a great job as the seemingly “woke” James, Cherie’s boss, the man who says the right words but does so in a perfectly disingenuous way.
One of the film’s main problems is the plot holes. It tries to be so many things at once, but in the end, it becomes frustrating. The strong female empowerment motif becomes pointless when it lacks substance. We never learn what Ethan is. It’s never explained why James sent Cherie specifically on that fateful date. We do, however, get a pretty cool shot of Ethan literally ripping a man’s head off. For special effects like that, I’m almost willing to overlook most of my frustrations with this title.
Run Sweetheart Run is a good film, but it could have been great. It’s got strong performances and an intriguing storyline. Sadly, too many questions and intrigues it raises remain unsolved. While the first half kept me on the edge of my seat, the ending is annoyingly unsatisfying.
What did you think of Run Sweetheart Run? Comment below.