While at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, this writer had the opportunity to catch a wide variety of films while at the fest, including Shana Feste’s Run Sweetheart Run, The Nowhere Inn featuring St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein, and the light-hearted end of the world romp, Save Yourselves! Here’s a look at what I thought about this tantalizing trio of genre and genre-adjacent projects:
Run Sweetheart Run: I feel like it’s safe to say that everyone at one point or another in their lives has been on a nightmare date of some kind. Mine involved a friend who left me at his prom, and then came back only to get us lost in downtown Chicago until the very late hours of the night, with me having to help push his car off a median strip at one point, and culminating with a run through a drive-thru at McDonald’s since he didn’t even have the decency to buy me dinner that night. But that doesn’t even begin to compare to the hell that Cherie (Ella Balinska) faces during Run Sweetheart Run, in which she gets set up on a date with the mysterious Ethan (Pilou Asbæk), only to spend the rest of the night in a bitter fight for her life.
Clearly inspired by “The Most Dangerous Game” as well as a multitude of horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Demon Knight, and Fright Night, just to name a few, writer/director Shana Feste’s Run Sweetheart Run delivers up a steady onslaught of genre thrills as Cherie makes her way through the streets of Los Angeles, trying to find a way to escape Ethan, and looking for a safe place to hunker down. The thing is, Ethan has a pretty nasty means of being able to track his prey, making it nearly impossible for Cherie to find any kind of respite from this predator, until she is taken in by the mysterious Blue Ivy (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who helps Cherie come up with a way to fight back, and quite possibly, stop Ethan for good.
The first two-thirds of Run Sweetheart Run is hella fun for genre fans, a relentless cat-and-mouse game that is elevated by a strong and physical performance from Balinska, who makes for an empathetic and compelling protagonist, as well as Asbæk’s scenery chewing performance as Ethan (which I mean as a compliment—he’s absolutely great), who plays up his nasty impulses with a wink and a nod. Also, as someone who loves movies that feel like they are giving Los Angeles a tangible pulse, I really appreciated the way that Feste leans into that throughout Run Sweetheart Run.
Where the film ends up running into problems is during its final act, which feels a bit ham-fisted at times, and also a bit too busy and non-sensical, especially in comparison to all that precedes it. It’s truly a shame, because I was 110 percent on board with everything else in Run Sweetheart Run up until that point, but I do think Feste shows a tremendous amount of promise as a genre storyteller, and I absolutely loved both Balinska and Asbæk here as well, which was enough to keep me happy overall.
Movie Score: 3/5
The Nowhere Inn: For The Nowhere Inn, Bill Benz blends meta filmmaking with a documentary-style narrative for one of the most intriguing offerings to come out of this year’s Midnight slate at Sundance. But for as provocative as it is, I also don’t know if it truly comes together in any sort of satisfying way, either, where it feels like The Nowhere Inn has some questions on its mind from the start, but doesn’t quite know how to answer them by the end of the film. But everything else is an extremely compelling look at a “normal” rock star who just might be too normal to have her own documentary, which in itself is a rather refreshing take, considering it seems like just about everyone in the music industry gets their own documentary at some point in their careers.
The Nowhere Inn pairs up real-life friends St. Vincent (otherwise known as Annie Clark) and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney fame, where the latter sets out to make a documentary about her longtime pal, only to realize as the cameras roll on Annie’s everyday life that her fellow musician is a bit boring whenever she’s not on stage rocking out and thrilling thousands of her fans with her transcendent vocals and blazing guitar riffs. And when Carrie encourages Annie to be a bit more “rockstarish” for the sake of her passion project, Clark’s St. Vincent persona comes out in full swing, sometimes resulting in hilarious shenanigans (like everyone around her donning St. Vincent wigs) and other times, in some very cold and calculated ways, reflective of an artist who has lost the sense of her own authenticity.
As a means for exploring a musician at odds with the two halves of her own self, The Nowhere Inn is a rather fascinating character study of sorts, with both Clark and Brownstein shining in their respective “roles” (I’m not sure exactly that’s what I’d call them, but that’s the gist of what they’re both doing here). There’s a hilarious bit involving Dakota Johnson, too, that left me reeling. But by the film’s conclusion, it feels like there are three different movies at odds with each other in The Nowhere Inn (including a confessional series of interviews with Annie that were rather unnecessary), and I don’t feel like they totally gel together as a whole.
That being said, I still do appreciate Benz’s ambition that is on display throughout The Nowhere Inn, and I’m always someone who can appreciate when filmmakers take any kind of risks, because there’s nothing worse than playing it safe. It’s clear that he wanted to try and buck music documentary traditions, resulting in a film that’s good, but ultimately falls short of greatness.
Movie Score: 3/5
Save Yourselves!: Boy, I feel like a negative Nelly here with this batch of reviews, but it is what it is. I was extremely stoked about Save Yourselves! when I first heard about it, and sure, there were quite a few things I enjoyed about the film, but considering it wraps up with something of a non-ending, I was left wanting so much more from the conclusion, which just kinda drifts off into the narrative abyss (nothing nearly as egregious as The Turning, though), where you just get the sense that filmmakers Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson painted themselves into a corner they just didn’t know how to get themselves out of in the end. And that to me is a damn shame, because everything was utterly delightful.
Save Yourselves! follows a Brooklyn couple, Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds), who are feeling the pressures of everyday life bearing down on them and decide to disconnect from the world at large by taking a trip to a cabin in the woods as a means to get things back on track. What they don’t realize as they decide to swear off technology is that our planet comes under attack by aliens, making the timing of their vacation pretty damn unfortunate to say the very least.
Both Mani and Reynolds are utterly charming and relatable in Save Yourselves! as they contend with the pressures of adulthood, the next steps for their relationship, as well as an alien invasion to boot. I loved how the film captures a much more scaled down version of the “Earth on the cusp of collapse” story than we usually get from large-scale blockbusters that tackle the same type of stories, and I thought the aliens themselves—a mix of the Critters creatures and Tribbles from Star Trek—are so dang cute, too.
But after Su and Jack are forced to deal with the end of the world themselves, that’s where things begin to fall apart narratively for me. Others might get different mileage from Fischer and Wilson’s efforts here, but I just think for a film that has a lot to say early on, it loses its voice when everything is said and done with Save Yourselves!, which is a real shame.
Movie Score: 2.5/5
In case you missed it, visit our online hub for more live coverage of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival!
[Photo Credits: Above photos courtesy of Minka Farthing Kohl (The Nowhere Inn), Matt Clegg (Save Yourselves!), and Sundance Institute.]