A cat and mouse thriller with some shocking surprises
Run Sweetheart Run originally premiered at Sundance in January 2020 and it was set for a theatrical release. Then the pandemic hit and the film, along with a number of other planned releases, was delayed.
According to information found online, Universal Pictures subsequently shelved the picture but then Amazon Studios picked the film up for release. Shana Feste, the film’s director, then decided to rework the script and reshoot some new scenes, presumably to add polish and to shape it into something more closely attuned to the social messages that she wanted to highlight within the narrative.
I don’t know what the film looked like originally but the final product is very good, even though its premise is, on the surface, a very familiar one.
The protagonist is Cherie (Ella Balinska), a young single mother living in LA. She has dreams of becoming an attorney but because of the chauvinistic attitudes at the law firm where she works, she finds it almost impossible to climb the career ladder. Her requests for advancement aren’t taken seriously by her boss James Fuller (Clark Gregg) and as such, Cherie, like all of the other women at the firm, has to resign herself to carrying out secretarial duties instead.
But when James asks her to take a client out for dinner, Cherie thinks her fortunes are changing for the better. She is excited at the opportunity and when she meets the client, a seemingly charming man named Ethan (Pilou Asbæk), she seems to win him over. A mutual attraction forms and after the meal, he invites her over to his house for a drink. She accepts his offer but soon begins to regret her decision!
When Cherie steps through the man’s front door, Ethan turns to the camera and holds up his hand, as if forbidding the viewer entry into his home. We then remain outside while inside there are the sounds of Cherie struggling. The door then opens and Cherie runs out looking dishevelled and terrified. The word RUN then appears on the screen in big red capitals and a propulsive music score kicks in. From this point, the movie goes into high gear as we watch Cherie run for her life through the streets of LA while Ethan chases after her.
We have seen ‘woman in peril’ movies before and as suggested, the film seems to have a familiar premise. But be assured, this is far from traditional, so you shouldn’t ignore this film because you’re tired of the genre. Yes, Cherie is forced to flee and she gets into some very tricky situations, but Ethan isn’t your usual sex pest-type figure and the film’s story does not take the turns you are probably expecting. This is more of a horror film than a psycho-thriller, with some surprising plot twists that can’t be predicted.
The film is based on the director’s own experience of a traumatic date when she ended up running out of a man’s house in the Hollywood Hills with no shoes, no phone, and no purse. According to interviews Feste gave to EW, her night was made far more harrowing when the people she expected to help her, didn’t! I don’t quite know who the ‘people’ were that the director was referring to but in the film, Cherie isn’t helped by the police or certain members of her own sisterhood, so it might be that Feste had a similar experience.
The film is certainly very exciting, despite the disturbing nature of the plot, and this is largely because of Feste’s ability to keep us on our toes as she aims the camera at Cherie running from one terrifying situation to another. We are rarely allowed a moment to catch our breath thanks to the fast camerawork and narrative twists and even when things do slow down, there is still a sense of tension as we know Ethan could turn up to create havoc at any moment.
There is much to like about Run Sweetheart Run but special mention must go to the director’s clever use of the fourth wall that acknowledges the existence of the audience. I have already mentioned the moment when Ethan raised his hand to the camera to forbid our entry into his home but there are other moments when he gives a knowing look to the camera, right before doing something horrible. This makes our experience all the more uncomfortable as the events in the film seem to become more real as a consequence. Like the people who stand by and do nothing to help Cherie, we almost feel like bystanders to the horrible events that happen on screen.
It might be that the director is pointing the finger at people who choose not to help those in need but her bigger target is men, or rather the patriarchal structure of our society. We first witness this when Cherie is patronised by her boss at the law firm but there are other moments in the film, including a scene within a police station where the officer in charge doesn’t take Cherie’s plea for help seriously, that highlight the sexist attitudes that have long kept women ‘in their place.’ Some of these scenes are a little heavy-handed as Feste tries to get her points across but the film does become more relatable as a consequence.
With its strong social messages, shocking moments of horror, stylish direction, and fantastic acting from its lead actress, Run Sweetheart Run is a film well worth seeing. I’m glad that Amazon didn’t run away from this one as it’s one of the biggest surprises of the year and is far better than other those other ‘woman in peril’ movies that are more exploitative in nature than this thought-provoking little gem.
Read More: Run Sweetheart Run Ending Explained
Verdict - 7.5/10