Ella Balinska and Shana Feste on their feminist horror movie Run Sweetheart Run

On the surface, Run Sweetheart Run is a cat-and-mouse horror film about a young woman, Cherie (Ella Balinska), running for her life. Seriously, Balinska runs a lot. The actress became so engrossed in sprinting that writer/director Shana Feste asked Balinska to slow down during takes because the camera department could not keep up. The amount of running will catch your eye, but the film’s portrayal of an intelligent woman fighting back against the patriarchy will grab your attention.

Cherie is a single mother in law school who works at a law firm to make ends meet. Cherie agrees to go on a date with her boss’s client, Ethan (Pilou Asbæk), a charming businessman. After a lovely night, Cherie agrees to one final drink at the client’s home, but the date suddenly becomes a nightmare after Ethan violently attacks her. This leads Cherie on a fast-paced adventure throughout one night in Los Angeles as the bloodthirsty Ethan methodically hunts her at every turn. Based on events in Feste’s life, the film becomes a champion for female empowerment and depicts a woman’s battle with the misogynistic forces trying to tear her down.

In an interview with Digital Trends, Balinska and Feste discuss the importance of a Black female protagonist, the harrowing relationship between Cherie and Ethan, and the balance between social commentary and horror.

Shana Feste talks with Ella Balinska on the steps of an alter in a scene from Run Sweetheart Run.Director SHANA FESTE and ELLA BALINSKA on the set of RUN SWEETHEART RUN Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video
 © Amazon Content Services LLC

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The film premiered at Sundance almost three years ago. It was supposed to come out in the spring of 2020. The pandemic began, and it was pulled from its release date. Now it’s finally going to be seen by audiences everywhere. Can you describe your emotions knowing that this three-year journey is coming to fruition?

Ella Balinska: I could speak for ages on this, but I think the word is “finally.” It’s really great for it to be coming out. The themes in this film that was so relevant back in 2019 are still relevant now. I also would love to add that it is so nice to be able to finally shake the last of this character. [Laughs] It’s a nice bit of closure.

Shana Feste: It’s a mix of like “finally,” and how tired I am. I told Ella the other day, “I think this is the longest relationship I’ve ever had with an actor in my mind.” Like, we’re still in it. We were shooting this last year. We were doing a reshoot last year that we never expected to do. But, I’m just incredibly grateful that it’s finally going to see the light of day because that was the worst for any filmmaker releasing a movie at the height of the pandemic. We were all just so lost and scared and wondering if our work would ever be seen. For Amazon to be supporting and putting it out like this, I’m very grateful.

Shana, you’ve talked about how personal this film is for you. It was inspired by events that happened in your life. As a filmmaker, how did you channel those feelings into the film? How do you balance what to include and exclude about your experience?

Feste: I think for me, I don’t know how to direct anything that isn’t personal to me. It has to come from a really personal place. The reason there’s so much period blood in it, I was trying to confront my own shame of having my period when I was 13 years old. That’s something that I was really scared to shoot. I like feeling challenged by my own material, and I knew I needed to do it. I knew it was the right thing to do.

Even as a survivor, it definitely impacted the way that I shot the film. I didn’t shoot a rape scene in this film. I did the opposite. I stayed outside the door the whole time, which made it even more challenging as a filmmaker to rely on your collaborators. I was relying on our sound design and our locations department to find the perfect location. Our cinematography, the music, the score by Rob, everything was helping me tell that story and making it just as terrifying as if you were able to actually watch it.

Ella Balinska stands outside of the house in fear in a scene from Run Sweetheart Run.ELLA BALINSKA stars in RUN SWEETHEART RUN Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video
 © Amazon Content Services LLC

The use of blood was interesting, especially regarding Cherie’s period. Ella, why was it important to normalize periods in this film? 

Balinska: This is a really awesome portrayal of it [Cherie’s period] being used to empower the character. It gets used as a mechanism to save her life. In the overpass scene, she throws her tampon to literally save her life at that moment. And it’s so smart. I don’t even know if I would think about that. I would think it’s so taboo.

That was the other thing. Being on set and addressing those scenes, I’m like, “50% of us on this planet go through this.” That was a journey for me, too, getting comfortable. I hope that people can watch this film and start their journey feeling more comfortable, too.

What stood out about Ella during this process?

Feste: I think she’s just a force. So much of what I did, by not showing Ethan’s true form, I chose to play it all in her face. At the end of the film, it’s all played in these tight, close-ups. I knew I needed an actress that could basically be in a rom-com in the first act and a thriller in the second and a horror film in the third. That could play all those various colors. Ella impressed me so much with what she was able to do, and it was an incredibly physical role as well. Not only is Ella an action star, but she’s a dramatic actress so she was able to bring everything to the table.

Ella, what was your reaction when reading the script for the first time?

Balinska: I really was blown away by the arc that she went on. This film isn’t structured like a normal horror film where something scary happens, and then there’s the ghost. And then we all wake up the next day and talk about the ghost. Then, it happens again. Once you start this movie, you’re in and you run and the film doesn’t stop until the situation stops. It’s really sequential in one night. The sheer amount of growth that she goes through this one night is something that, as an actor, I really was open to taking on that challenge. It isn’t something that you see too often.

Ella Balinska kneels in a bloody suit in a scene from Run Sweetheart Run.ELLA BALINSKA stars in RUN SWEETHEART RUN Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video
 © Amazon Content Services LLC

Did you expect to be running this much in the film? It felt like you ran the equivalent of a marathon.

Balinska: Yes. It’s funny, they did warn me that I was definitely going to be needing to put one foot in front of the other a few times here. [Laughs] I think one of the best aspects of the film is the pace it brings to the movie.

Feste: Sometimes, she was almost too scared. Sometimes when she was running, the camera department couldn’t even keep up with her because she was so in that moment of being terrorized, and she was truly running for her life. I’m like, “OK, Ella. You got to slow down for these guys.” [Laughs] It was so real, and she had conveyed it so powerfully that it was almost too fast to film.

Shana, what came first? Did you have an idea for a horror film, and then you decided to incorporate social commentary and themes about misogyny and feminism? Or vice versa?

Feste: Yeah. It stemmed from my frustration and anger. And having a daughter and living and growing up in Los Angeles and thinking, “I don’t want her to experience Los Angeles in the same way that I did.” I think I’m finally able to write about what happened to me. Los Angeles is definitely a character in the movie because it’s obviously a beautiful city that we all love. It’s glamorous, but it has a really dark underbelly. It has a really vicious side to it, and so I wanted to show that side and let it in as a character in my movie.

I liked how you set it at night. It gives off this gritty, tenacious feeling. I thought of Michael Mann’s Collateral, Nightcrawler, or Drive. 

Feste: One thing I will never do again is set an entire movie at night. Ever.

It has to be difficult.

Feste: It was so intense and much worse for my actors than for me. [Laughs]

Run Sweetheart Run – Official Trailer | Prime Video

Cherie is a Black female protagonist. She’s a single mother who is highly intelligent. She’s not your typical damsel in distress. She’s tough, and she’s a survivor. Why was it important to showcase this type of p

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