How Shana Feste turned a bad date into a horror story with Sundance thriller Run Sweetheart Run
Filmmaker Shana Feste, a self-described hermit, is “incredibly shy in person,” she tells EW; her production company is even named Quiet Girl Productions. For her fifth feature, though, the writer-director “knew I had to make something really loud and disruptive and noisy, to just stand out.”
That loud movie became the horror-thriller Run Sweetheart Run, which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday and arrive in theaters later this year, and from which EW can exclusively reveal a chilling new image, above. Produced by Jason Blum, the film was largely inspired by another Blumhouse production that broke out at the indie fest: Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut, Get Out. “I loved the idea of making a social horror film,” Feste says. “So I kind of challenged myself to think of, ‘What would the equivalent of Get Out be for women?’”
Run Sweetheart Run takes on normalized misogyny through a genre lens just as Get Out did with racial oppression. Peele’s new horror classic wasn’t Feste’s only inspiration, though; a trauma from the filmmaker’s own history served as the basis for the movie’s story. In her early 20s, Feste went on a date with a man “who looked incredible on paper,” she recalls, but “it went bad very quickly, and I think at, like, one in the morning, I ended up running out of his house in the Hollywood Hills.” With no shoes, no phone, and no purse, Feste ran all the way home to West L.A. in her little black dress.
“That night was terrifying and illuminating,” she says. “People that I didn’t think were going to help me did help me, and the people I thought were going to help me didn’t really help me so much as they could have. It was almost — what happened on foot, going back to my house — worse than what happened on the date.”
Feste was eager to translate her real-life nightmare into a heightened horror world, though in some ways, “this world that I was creating that was supposed to be heightened really isn’t that heightened,” she admits. “In reality, the world that we live in is disappointingly misogynistic.” (Similarly, Get Out, you may recall, is a documentary.) The visually expressive film’s nighttime hellscape of Los Angeles, however, was designed to reflect the terrified headspace of her heroine, played by Charlie’s Angels star Ella Balinska.
The filmmaker was conscious, too, of creating something thrilling and fun while working with serious material. “There’s a lot of violence against our lead character, and as a woman and a victim of sexual assault myself, I was thinking, ‘How do I shoot this? How do I shoot this in a way that’s palatable?’” she says. “I learned a lot from Rosemary’s Baby, because the baby in your head was always scarier than any baby that they would show. So a lot of the violence in my film actually happens off camera, and it’s mainly with sound design, which I think turned out really cool.”
This is the moment for a film like Run Sweetheart Run because “people are listening,” Feste says. “People are really accepting of women working in genre and telling different stories.” Horror superpower Blumhouse was extremely receptive to the concept, “and maybe that wouldn’t have been the case 10 years ago,” she adds. “I think [the wider conversation] has kind of afforded female filmmakers a lot of opportunities to tell different stories — stories I think we’ve been waiting a long time to tell but people really weren’t as interested in telling.”
For her part, Feste has been living with this particular story for years, and dramatizing the horrific memory was a way for her to reclaim the experience of her own trauma. “In some ways, this is like a revenge fantasy,” she says. “I almost got to replay that night as a hero. I think a part of me got to create a superhero that I wasn’t that night — but I wanted to be.”
Run Sweetheart Run will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 27 and hit theaters later in 2020.