"Run Sweetheart Run" an obvious but entertaining #MeToo horror chase-thriller

Run Sweetheart Run (2022)

Remember that forgettable 2014 comedy “Walk of Shame” where Elizabeth Banks got stranded and was forced to traverse all over Los Angeles in a yellow bandage dress? Well, no one does, but “Run Sweetheart Run” is like the #MeToo horror version of that premise. It’s been a long journey since the film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and luckily, that wait must have been more about the right release than the actual quality of the film itself. A primal scream for every woman who’s ever felt like prey being hunted in a predatory, male-dominated workplace and world, director Shana Feste’s run-for-your-life, up-all-night thriller is brazen and bloody. It’s pretty obvious what writer-director Feste and co-writers Keith Josef Adkins & Kelly Terrell set out to accomplish, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining and gutsy. 

Ella Balinska (2019’s “Charlie’s Angels”) is charismatic, vulnerable, and fierce as the titular “sweetheart,” a term of condescending dominance rather than endearment here. She plays Cherie, a single mom and UCLA pre-law graduate who’s working as a put-upon secretary at an L.A. firm. When she may or may not have double-booked her boss (Clark Gregg) on his anniversary with a client dinner, Cherie agrees to meet the client herself. She gets a babysitter at the last minute and then meets Ethan Sacks (Pilou Asbæk), a rich and handsome man who can make strong gin and tonics and isn’t well-liked by dogs. It seems more like a date than a business meeting, but Cherie goes with it. After a pretty nice evening of being wined and dined (and then some roller skating?), Cherie reluctantly takes Ethan up on a night cap back at his place. But once she’s inside, Cherie is attacked and runs for her life, and discovering just how powerful and monstrous Ethan really is, she keeps running for her life.

Director Shana Feste (2014’s “Endless Love”) makes a smart decision in never showing Ethan’s attacks on Cherie. In fact, when Cherie agrees to a nightcap and goes into his house before him, he stops the camera with his hand (in the first instance of some silent fourth wall breaking) and makes us wait outside. The inciting attack happens offscreen while we hear a struggle, and Cherie stumbling out of the door, disheveled with her mascara running and ready to run for dear life, is all we need. The frame freezes with an exclamatory “RUN” flashing in red caps across Cherie’s distraught face. It’s a cheeky horror-movie device, and it happens again whenever Cherie finds herself in another situation that calls for her to flee. All the while (and it would seem like an extraneous detail but isn’t), Cherie is on her period, too. Unfortunately, her blood is not helping her from being hunted by Ethan, but Cherie can also use her femininity to take back her power. 

Essentially a chase picture, “Run Sweetheart Run” moves with a propulsive energy and a directness with its burn-it-all-down ideas. The script goes a little harder than it needs to in spelling out its point (Rainier Scott’s remix of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is just one instance), but perhaps a story about misogyny and a woman rising against her attacker needs to be a little pushy. It does help that Danish actor Pilou Asbæk (the gory zombie face of “Overlord”) poses such a threat, dancing between charm and menace as Ethan. Then there’s Shohreh Aghdashloo, who’s magnificent casting as the First Lady running a safe house for similarly terrorized female survivors. As a precarious blend of metaphor and genre narrative, the supernatural and the literal, “Run Sweetheart Run” works, and it’s effective enough to end all first dates. 

Grade: B -

Amazon Studios is releasing “Run Sweetheart Run” (103 min.) on Prime Video on October 28, 2022.