Ella Balinska Stars in Fun Horror Ride

Dec 11, 2022

Some of the most memorable horror movies are the ones that are willing to throw caution to the wind and embrace the full potential of the genre’s distinct unpredictability. They can teeter on the edge of being a cinematic gag and play around with our expectations on how they are supposed to go. Think of this year’s Barbarian or Significant Other to get some sense of what is in store for you with Run Sweetheart Run. While very much a beast all its own, both to its credit and detriment, it also feels like an odd marriage of those two prior works. A splashy genre film that wears a more grounded disguise before ripping it off to reveal its true self, it is overflowing with tonal and narrative flaws but still manages to arrive at something joyous.

Unaware that she is about to be thrust into all of this is Cherie (Ella Balinska) who spends her days grinding away as an underappreciated assistant at a law firm while trying to raise her young daughter alone. When her boss James (Clark Gregg) calls her and informs her that she supposedly double-booked him that evening, he tells her that she will have to go to a business dinner with a client in his place. Cherie, while pretty certain she didn’t make any mistake, is caught in a bind as she knows correcting her boss may backfire even when she is right. Thus, she hires a sitter and decides to make the most of the night. She then meets Ethan (Pilou Asbæk) at his luxurious home where he begins to turn up the charm. He is sickeningly suave yet sinister as he makes the most unimaginative drink possible, which she pretends to drink with no problem before turning away to exhale in distaste, and the two then go out to dinner.

While it is clear that this business meeting has now become a date Cherie didn’t really sign up for, she plays along with a combination of just enough politeness and curiosity to keep things going. Even when Ethan inexplicably flies off the handle at a dog, he manages to paper over concern with a halfhearted explanation about how his aversion to canines stems from when he was attacked by one as a child. They then go roller skating together in a mimicry of a cute romantic comedy before they arrive back at his home where Ethan encourages her to cancel her pickup to come in for a while longer. Cherie is more than a little uncertain about this proposition, though eventually acquiesces and goes inside. Just before the camera is about to follow them in, Ethan breaks the fourth wall and stops it from doing so. Following this brief acknowledgment of our presence as an audience, he goes inside and closes the door. We hear chaos erupt after which a bloody and disheveled Cherie bursts out. Big text appears on the screen shouting RUN! in all caps, which she then proceeds to do. This is the beginning of what will be the longest night of Cherie’s life with Ethan somehow always right on her trail. Throughout all of this, Balinska has more than a few tricks up her sleeve, and Asbæk channels his charm into convincing creepiness as he chews through more than just the scenery.

Image via Prime Video

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Why Ethan is somehow able to always find Cherie is initially, and pointedly, because he has all the connections to the necessary institutions of power. This begins when Cherie goes to the cops only to be arrested on the nonsense charge of public intoxication. The police then bring Ethan into the cell with her despite her repeatedly identifying him as her attacker. After he informs her that the night is going to be a game where Cherie will survive if she can make it to sunrise, she decides to go to her slimy boss James to get help from someone she knows. Some sleuthing on his computer uncovers the beginning of a darker truth that is where everything really kicks off. Any more details about the exact direction of this is best kept under wraps, though suffice to say, it is about how some men are truly monsters. This is where the film has a thematic undercurrent that seeks to make a broader statement about power and violence that takes on an unexpected biblical bent. It works best in moments where you see who it is that Cherie can actually turn to for help, usually working-class people from bus drivers to sex workers, as opposed to those that are supposedly meant to “protect and serve.” It can rely on rather blunt exposition to establish its aspirations, but it does make for something a bit more thoughtful in some subtle moments sprinkled throughout.

However, the manner in which it arrives at these points can be more than a bit disjointed and unnecessarily muddle the story. There are lines that feel out of place and, especially based on the trailer, it appears that there have been some not insignificant edits made that create a different setup from the cut that premiered more than two years ago. It would seem that the initial story was that this was always a blind date from the jump as opposed to having the added subterfuge of it initially being a business meeting. This may seem like splitting hairs as it all ends up at the same place, but there are still jarring moments where characters will reference aspects of a story that no longer exists. While the last film from director Shana Feste, 2018’s drab dramedy Boundaries, could not be more different in tone and style there are still echoes of its structural problems. This latest work is far superior, but still held back by the similarly lackluster loops it gets stuck in. The film tries to inject some energy into these moments via the aforementioned onscreen text and the fourth wall breaking. Unfortunately, it is all too scattershot and often brings the already struggling momentum grinding to a halt.

With all that residual messiness in mind, the film still eventually stumbles into something spectacular at about an hour in. It is heralded by some less-than-seamless transitions, but there is also a part of you that knows it is not meant to be taken fully seriously. While the gritty sensibility is still present and informs the remainder of the film enough to keep its head on straight, there are also plenty of moments that play to the rafters in their absurdity. Whether you are on board for the remainder of the film will depend largely on whether you were hoping for a straightforward thriller or are willing to take the leap into more bonkers horror. If you fall into the latter camp, you’re in for a good time. If anything, the film honestly ought to have run wild a bit more. What we do get feels like just a taste of what can and should have been the full meal. In particular, a discovery of a secret society offered up a bounty of narrative potential that only felt like it was just getting explored. What exploration we do get ensures it ends on an overdue high note. While it takes a while to get there after dancing around its premise, when Run Sweetheart Run hits its stride it is more than worth running along with it.

Rating: B-

You can watch Run Sweetheart Run on Amazon Prime Video starting October 28.

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