If you look way back at my favorite films of 2018, you may have noticed that I was really fond of a movie called Searching. The film served as the directorial debut of Aneesh Chaganty, who also wrote the script, and was a tight, lean, and wonderful thriller that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat. It felt like years since I was that thoroughly entertained by a straight-up thriller that didn’t try to mesh in horror elements to justify the escalating terror. Instead, it used found footage in a way that felt authentic and natural to the time period and characters.
It goes without saying that I was going to be an easy mark for anything that Aneesh Chaganty would do next, regardless of what it may be. Eventually, it was confirmed that his next film, Run, would be another thriller, though this time taking several horror elements courtesy of its co-star Sarah Paulson and her time as the face of American Horror Story. You just don’t cast her without throwing some pants-to-be-darkened nightmare fuel into the mix. Because of that, I was a bit more cautious in approaching Run, since I’ve seen many a horror-thriller that falls flat on its face in a duel bid to be both thrilling and terrifying.
While Run may not be quite as standout as Searching was, it’s arguably an even stronger film than that due to its wonderful performances and cat-and-mouse dynamics.
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Release Date: November 20, 2020 (Hulu)
Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a young, technically savvy teenager who has had a noticeably hard life. She was a stillborn child who, after being resuscitated, developed asthma, heart arrhythmia, diabetes, hemochromatosis, and is paralyzed. Needless to say, her mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) is somewhat overprotective. She homeschools Chloe but is giving her the chance to leave the house and head off to college. So everything sounds pretty hunky-dory with their relationship, but things start to take a turn for the weird when Chloe finds a new prescription in her pills that she’s never seen before and was made out to her mother instead of her.
Run is primarily defined by its two lead actresses, Sarah Paulson and newcomer Kiera Allen, who in real life is paraplegic. The two women at first develop a rapport that seems totally fitting for a mother and a daughter. But, as one would expect from a movie called Run, it eventually does sour, just not in the way that you would expect. There are certainly elements of Stephen King’s Misery here, where a person is an unwilling captive to a mentally unsound woman, but Sarah Paulson is no Kathy Bates. Bates’ performance continuously shifted from intense adoration to manic rage at the drop of a hat, making her incredibly unpredictable and all the more terrifying.
Paulson never reaches the same mania that Bates did but instead gives off a far more imposing – and frankly unsettling – demeanor of always being in control of the situation. Her mental stability eventually is revealed to be entirely out of whack, which should be almost immediately apparent within the first ten minutes of the film, but for the majority of the runtime, I could never quite put my finger on the why. Why is she so far gone and creating this environment for her daughter? Without going into spoilers, the revelation is mortifying and when you really think of the implications of her actions, she’s downright despicable and hateable in a way that I haven’t hated a character in quite some time. Paulson’s character is convinced what they’re doing is the right thing, which makes for a more natural and more disturbing antagonist.
Meanwhile, Keira Allen does a magnificent job of depicting the real-life struggles of a person with disabilities. Of course, these are heightened scenarios, but her character’s unique traits serve to make what would be normal problems all the more dangerous and hopeless. In one scene towards the halfway point of the film, Chloe winds up in her basement. That alone shouldn’t be that big of a deal until you realize that the only way for her to escape from there is via the stairs. Situations that would seem normal and mundane are elevated to catastrophic degrees and we’re able to empathize with Chloe because of just how relatable of a character she is despite her handicap.
Chaganty engineered another brilliant script where every little plot point serves a purpose. Whether it be from pill bottles, to colors, to mail trucks, most actions serve to further the overall narrative. There are a few opportunities that I do think Chaganty missed this time to further enhance his story, especially in comparison to Searching where every individual frame and line of dialogue felt important, and the ultimate twist at the end didn’t have many logical hints leading up to the reveal. The end result is still an incredibly engaging story that had me tense at all of the right moments.
Despite the lack of clinical precision with the script, I still find Run to be a more memorable film than Searching. Searching, by design, was meant to have the audiences discover alongside John Cho’s character the mystery that was unfolding around him. The mystery was the best part of the movie, with Cho as well as the audience constantly questioning if his daughter is dead or alive or even how this situation began in the first place.
Run was less was about discovery. We all knew that Diane was one not to be trusted, so the movie instead pivots its mystery on the why instead of the how. Because of that decision, those little character moments feel all the more apparent and impactful than they would have been if it was a narrative-driven plot. Seeing Diane practice a phone call to a pharmacist tells way more about her mental well being than any dialogue ever could.
A common comparison that is being given to Run is that it draws a lot of elements from the 1959 musical Gypsy. On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. It stars an overprotective mother (usually played by a popular older actress) and delves into the complicated relationship between her and her daughter, who eventually develops a resentment of her overbearing maternal instincts. Again, on the surface, there’s a valid comparison to be made, but it’s one that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. First of all, the schism in their relationship comes from the newfound fame and success that Gypsy Rose Lee gains versus Run where Chloe has no fame and no success. She just has her overbearing mother. Second, the musical is ultimately sympathetic to Lee’s mother as her life collapses around her but there is no sympathy for Diane. Oh sure, we understand her actions, but never once did I feel an ounce of sympathy for her.
The more I think about it, the less I consider Run to be cut from the same cloth as Gypsy, but more so from Mommie Dearest. In that film, Joan Crawford elicits no remorse and instead is portrayed as being an abusive and damaging figure in her children’s lives despite her claims that she’s trying to help them. It was a borderline horror movie back when it released in 1981, so combining it with the intensity and isolation of Misery feels like the most apt description of Run.
But do I like the film? Oh God yes. Run was a tense and satisfying ride and it has officially made Chaganty a director to watch in my eyes. While it’s debatable if Run is better than his previous film, there’s no escaping how uncomfortable the film made me as it progressed. Between tight escapes, heart-pounding action, and two stresses delivering stellar performances, you should make watching Run a priority.