Several Sundance titles this year have inevitably addressed issues key to the #MeToo movement, many in sophisticatedly provocative ways — notably “Promising Young Woman.” Then there’s “Run Sweetheart Run,” which starts out as a crude Date From Hell thriller, then veers into garish supernatural horror. This latest from writer-director Shana Feste (“Country Strong,” the “Endless Love” remake) is a slick, flashy and trashy genre hash too knuckleheaded to be much fun even as a guilty pleasure.
Blumhouse plans a late-spring theatrical release, but while “Run Sweetheart Run” certainly has salable aspects, it requires the kind of less-than-discriminating viewership that is more likely to be found via streaming outlets. Universal has world rights.
An executive secretary who’s thinking of going back to nursing school, Los Angelean Cherie (Ella Balinska from the recent “Charlie’s Angels” reboot) is raising an adorable daughter alone. She hasn’t exactly been a frequent swimmer in the dating pool since breaking up with the girl’s hot-tempered father (Aml Ameen), but tonight has hired a babysitter in order to have dinner with a purported Mr. Right, as fixed up by her own boss (Clark Gregg). Indeed, when first encountered, Ethan (Pilou Ahbaek) seems like a catch: very rich, attractive, attentive, unpretentious. What’s not to like about a guy who takes her for a very fancy dinner, then to a roller-disco rink where he happily pratfalls over and over?
Unfortunately, Cherie discovers the answer to that hypothetical all too soon, when she naively accepts his invitation for one nightcap before going home. What happens behind his mansion door is left to our imaginations. But after a minute or two, a bloodied and hysterical Cherie flees back outside, screaming for help. Her purse and phone left behind, she gets strangers to call the police — but they take her for a drunk and/or prostitute, throwing her in jail. Worse, when she’s bailed out, it’s by Ethan, who flatly announces he will “hunt” her till dawn, if she survives that long.
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Many others she turns to for assistance do not — survive, that is. Our first intimidation that Ethan isn’t just a rich creep with extensive stalking resources comes when he literally bites off the head of one would-be rescuer. It isn’t entirely clear whether he’s Satan Himself, some lesser demon, a vampire (he can smell her blood anywhere, and unluckily she’s just started her period), or what. Nor do we know why he seems to have made a hobby of terrorizing and killing ethnic-minority women, or just what the deal is with the swanning proprietress of a mystical women’s safe house (a hammy Shohreh Aghdashloo). Nothing here makes much sense, but these elements seem to result from the worst kind of glib “let’s be topical” thinking, which reduces things like Black Lives Matter and sexual predation to lurid genre fodder.
Such issues actually can be well-served by the horror genre. But “Run Sweetheart Run” uses them so tritely — and alongside such repetitive gory battering of Balinska’s character — that the result feels crassly opportunistic. Nothing gels, as the film careens from cartoonishness to violent peril to attempted satire to sentimentality and so forth, all of it hyperbolic and inorganic. A “wild ride” is one thing, but this enterprise seems to have lost control of the vehicle, its steamroller effect underlined by frequent cheap jump scares, complete with an extra-loud Dolby whomp.
All this is only rendered yea more irksome by the high-gloss packaging, from DP Bartosz Nalazek’s sleek widescreen lensing to a soundtrack full of loud generic dance tracks. The performances are all over the map, with Balinska earnestly limning the victim-to-empowered-avenger trajectory, while talented Dane Asbaek (“A Hijacking”) plays devilish Ethan as more of a comic-book supervillain, to the point of literally winking at the camera.
“Run Sweetheart Run” is the kind of dumb movie whose certainty of its own wit and subversion only makes the whole queasy cocktail yea more indigestible. Women have been claiming the horror genre on their own terms for a while, and will continue to do so. But this exercise makes even “Jennifer’s Body” look like “The Babadook.”