Run Sweetheart Run Stumbles in its “Socially Conscious” StrutMovies Reviews Shana Feste
At first it seems like Shana Feste’s latest film, Run Sweetheart Run, marks a drastic shift in the director’s established genre. Having directed multiple features in the romantic dramedy realm, Feste’s turn toward horror—particularly as it pertains to a date night drenched in crusted crimson (period) blood—feels almost like a jaded response to her previous filmography.
On the contrary, Run Sweetheart Run proclaims that a woman known for crafting stories predicated on compatible courtships can still have plenty to say about the dangers of the heterosexual dating scene. Based on a traumatizing experience the filmmaker once had while on a date in her native L.A., Run Sweetheart Run plainly represents the misogyny that runs amok in this country—going so far as to personify (and literally demonize) this pervasive societal ill that has plagued womankind for millennia. While the film contains some impressive scares, a phenomenal lead performance and steadfast central message, Run Sweetheart Run is far too preoccupied with speaking to a cultural reckoning that is truly only occurring in terms of optics and vernacular. Sure, it might seem that the media we’re consuming is more “feminist” and “socially conscious,” but in reality, the culture we’re living in continues to pledge fealty to what this writer’s former Women’s Studies professor casually labeled “white supremacist hetero-patriarchy.”
More broadly, Run Sweetheart Run asserts that a veritable tide is turning when it comes to gender equality in the U.S., so intense in its societal shift that an age-old entity must step in to preserve the status quo. This is how Cherie (Charlie’s Angels’ Ella Balinska), a young mother and aspiring lawyer, finds herself in a hellish game of hide-and-seek throughout the nocturnal cityscape of Los Angeles. After working a stressful shift as the assistant to successful lawyer James R. Fuller (Clark Gregg), Cherie gets a call from her boss, who’s clearly incensed. Though she has no recollection of double-booking his plans for the evening, he berates her for scheduling a business dinner on the same night as his anniversary. Just then, however, he gets an idea: What if Cherie took this young, attractive client off of his hands for the night? Eager to please her boss (and potentially work her way up the corporate ladder), she agrees without hesitation. After all, it’s been a while since she’s mingled with the opposite sex, especially in the wake of her separation from ex-boyfriend Trey (Dayo Okeniyi).
Cherie meets Ethan (Pilou Asbaek) at his lavish mansion in a well-manicured L.A. suburb. He quickly serves her a gin and tonic (allegedly the only cocktail he knows how to make), and the two engage in pleasant small talk peppered with glances of mutual attraction. Just before Cherie gets too comfortable, though, she notices an odd pearl of burgundy liquid on the hardwood floor. Dabbing it with her finger, she notices it’s blood. In fact, it’s her own—a thin trail oozes from her crotch toward her inner thigh, many women’s worst fear in a delicate social situation. She excuses herself to one of several bathrooms in the expansive abode, constructs a makeshift pad out of toilet paper, then reemerges and says she’s ready for dinner. After a night out consisting of designer sushi, roller-rink romancing and heart-thumping chemistry, the two ride back to Ethan’s estate. Though Cherie insists she should get home to relieve the babysitter, Ethan convinces her to cancel her Uber and stay awhile. Setting her inhibitions aside, she agrees—only to emerge from the house moments later visibly disheveled, badly injured and screaming for help. Predictably, the “good guy” has morphed into a groping ghoul, one that’s hell-bent on chasing Cherie through the slick city streets until he can finally have his way with her.
There’s a supernatural slant to the film that’s undeniably entertaining, also serving to dull the cringier edges of Run Sweetheart Run’s political posturing. (For example, there’s a plot crescendo that directly alludes to shattering the glass ceiling, a painfully outdated call to action in itself.) However, the film’s definitive strength lies in its status as a horror film hinged on the biological act of menstruating, serving as a simultaneous burden and boon to Cherie. Evoking movies like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Carrie and Ginger Snaps, the onset of the protagonist’s period (and the super-size tampons she soaks with relatable immediacy) ushers her into a world of paranormal anxiety. The frank depiction of stale, brownish-red steeped cotton also earns the film serious props, with Feste genuinely unperturbed by the social stigma that still surrounds the common bodily function. (The filmmaker admitted during the Brooklyn Horror Festival post-screening Q&A that production t-shirts she ordered that read, “everything you can do I can do bleeding,” were reported as inappropriate by certain crew members.)
The film’s years-long evolution was also expanded upon by Feste during the same Q&A. Run Sweetheart Run originally premiered at Sundance in January of 2020, and was then set to screen at SXSW that March. Of course, COVID delayed the film’s festival run, with original distributor Universal Pictures indefinitely shelving the project. Amazon Studios eventually picked the film up, at which point Feste and the team opted to rework the script and reshoot several scenes. Feste brought on co-writers Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell, who bolstered Cherie’s authenticity as a Black woman protagonist, also altering additional story beats to mesh more cohesively with Feste’s own experiences alongside the film’s creature-motivated approach to horror. Knowing that Run Sweetheart Run was originally set to premiere in 2020, when the #MeToo movement dominated headlines over the pandemic, some of the more obviously outdated narrative mechanisms of the film are somewhat more excusable. What remains indefensible are the film’s more grating cinematic choices, such as implementing the iconic Funny Games fourth wall-breaking and annoying flashes of text that simply read “RUN!”
Run Sweetheart Run is nonetheless a bold horror debut from Feste, commendable in its relative inventiveness and directorial confidence. Perhaps part of its potency has to do with the filmmaker mining from her own livelihood, as she did with her first feature The Greatest back in 2009. In nurturing the creative inclination that first brought her to Sundance and moderate critical acclaim, Feste conjures a tale that is both out of her cinematic comfort zone and well-equipped for unraveling her pre-existing narrative sensibilities. Unfortunately, the film is bogged down by its own feminist pontification, one that makes sweeping statements about the threat of women being “culled” due to their meager advancements in the workforce. This sentiment plays a tad tone-deaf in relation to more progressive conversations surrounding class. Indeed, Cherie is never more maligned by her surroundings than when she runs around in a state of intense dishevelment, clearly perceived by others as homeless, a drug addict or sex worker. Are these not the women who society—namely men, especially murderous men—have continued to call open season on? When serial killers begin targeting well-connected, burgeoning career women, then perhaps Run Sweetheart Run will be regarded as the urgent feminist commentary it desperately wants to be.
Director: Shana Feste
Writers: Shana Feste, Keith Josef Adkins, Kellee Terrell
Stars: Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbaek, Clark Gregg, Aml Ameeny, Dayo Okeniyi, Betsy Brandt, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Release Date: October 28, 2022 (Amazon Studios)
Natalia Keogan is Filmmaker Magazine’s web editor, and regularly contributes freelance film reviews here at Paste. Her writing has also appeared in Blood Knife Magazine, SlashFilm and Daily Grindhouse, among others. She lives in Queens with her large orange cat. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan