Film Review – Run
Being a parent is a really hard job. You spend every waking second for years (even decades) feeding, cleaning, and paying for your child. One day that child will grow up to be an adult and will set off to be their own person. The transition has to be difficult for many – the “empty nest syndrome” can hit hard and unexpectedly. Early on in Run (2020) we see a group of parents congregating like an AA meeting, sharing their feelings of loss and emptiness now that their kids no longer need their help. Some are able to adjust to this new way of life, for others not so much.
The first thing that stuck out with this film was director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian. This is the same team that brought us the fantastic Searching (2018). While Run doesn’t have the immediate punch and engrossing mystery of their previous outing, Chaganty and Ohanian are once again able to demonstrate keen control of tone and pacing. At a brisk ninety minutes, Run tells a fully formed story that – while fairly predictable – is still executed well enough to keep us involved. This is a tight little thriller that carries no fat. It’s quick and clean – it comes in, does what it needs to do, and gets out before it overstays its welcome.
Chloe (Kiera Allen) was born with multiple health problems. She suffers from asthma, diabetes, and arrythmia. She is also paralyzed from the waist down. Her home has a built-in mechanism that allows her to travel up and down the stairs while in her wheelchair. Much of Chloe’s well-being is dependent on her mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson). Ever since she was born, Chloe’s mother kept watch over her – from what she ate, to managing her assortment of medications, etc. Diane was so involved with Chloe’s upbringing that she even had her homeschooled.
But like all kids, Chloe has reached the age where her independence is knocking at the door. Despite her condition, Chloe has grown to be an intelligent, resourceful young woman. She is determined to go to college – her room is decorated with swag from her dream college, the University of Washington (my alma mater, Go Huskies!). However, with each passing day her application goes without a response, the more Chloe starts to question her mother’s motivations. Is it just that the school isn’t sending a reply in the mail, or is something else going on? Soon enough, Chloe starts seeing little hints around the house making her think that Diane has more nefarious plans in mind.
Almost from the beginning, Run lays out a familiar road map. In terms of narrative, if you’ve seen Misery (1990), then you have an idea of where all of this is going. The draw isn’t in the big splashy surprises (although there are a few), but in how Chaganty, Ohanian, and the rest of the production weave the increasing conflict between Chloe and Diane. Chloe becomes a bit of an amateur sleuth, using her intellect to filter out what’s really going on while Diane uses her obvious physical advantages to keep things hidden. The writing and direction work best at focusing on small details that point toward bigger revelations. An open car door, the color of a pill, the lack of an internet connection – all of these seem superfluous on their own, but together build up the tension effectively.
Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen are both very good in their respective roles. Allen is the newcomer, making her feature length debut. As Chloe, Allen goes toe to toe with Paulson’s Diane, matching her screen presence. The more Diane pushes against Chloe, the more determined Chloe is to discover the truth. There are sequences where Chloe must perform physical feats without the use of her legs, and Allen’s performance make us believe that Chloe has the gusto to do it.
Diane is a conflicted and troubled character, and Paulson does a marvelous job of displaying those different sides. On one hand, Diane can be seen as the overprotective mother, who has had to bear the weight of caring for a special needs child and is simply unable to turn that switch off. But on the flipside, her character displays toxic possessiveness. Diane treats Chloe more like property than a human being, suffocating her with controlling behavior. She is a victim of circumstance who has devolved into a villain. Paulson plays it with pitch perfect balance – she stays right in the middle between realism and over the top absurdity.
The first two acts of Run contain mounting suspense, but the final act doesn’t pay it all off. What unfolds is somewhat of an anti-climax – instead of the characters dictating the outcome everything is left up to chance and lucky timing. But that is a minor quibble in an overall entertaining movie. Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian have avoided the sophomore slump here, once again showing what they can do with a limited scale and a smaller cast. Their future projects should be on your radar, if not already. Give them a bigger budget and more space to flex their creativity and look out.