Synopsis – A homeschooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her.
My Take – Two years ago, with his feature debut, ‘Searching’, as a writer/director Aneesh Chaganty left everyone spellbound with a surprisingly clever thriller that chronicled a father’s search for his missing daughter that unfolded entirely on computer and mobile screens. The film was not just creative and gripping from get go, but also wholly original, something which is clearly lacking nowadays.
Hence it was needless to say everyone was very excited for his follow-up film, which despite the fact that it used traditional cinematography, promised another uniquely confined situation.
Premiering on Hulu, following the cancellation of its theatrical release, director Chaganty’s latest film is more of a Hitchcockian thriller that at first focuses on the terror of relying on an untrustworthy caregiver, and then flips the terror of helplessness into a story of perseverance and capability, an important story of a wheelchair user who is anything but bound, resulting in quite a satisfying experience.
Sure, the film is formulaic in nature and is reminiscent of the true crime story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, which was also adapted into a Hulu series last year, called The Act, the narrative remains compelling nonetheless as it contains interesting elements that reaffirms director Chaganty as a promising new talent.
With some solid performances from its two leads, several inspired sequences and its positive representation of Chloe as a character who happened to be in a wheelchair, this sophomore feature manages to be a solid heart-racing thriller that is well worth your time.
The story follows Chloe (Kiera Allen), a chronically ill 17 year old wheelchair user suffering from asthma, diabetes, a heart issue, and a skin condition, who lives with her mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson) in a rural house. But, despite her condition Chloe remains ecstatic about going to college, mostly importantly as the acceptance letter stands for her breaking free from the walls of her home, and her over protective mother. Though she has been managing herself well for years by sticking to a daily routine, parts of which her mother assists with, by preparing her food and doling out her medications, Chloe craves normalization.
However, her life takes an unexpected turn when she discovers an unfamiliar medication prescribed to Dianne in the groceries. Which is not too alarming at first, until Diane tries to pass it off as new medication for Chloe, making her grow uncharacteristically suspicious of her loving mother. Setting off an intense game of panicked investigations and a lack of trust that ultimately turns into a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between mother and daughter.
Right from the opening scene, the film kicks off in high gear a disturbing sequence of events, and the pace only slows down enough to make us antsy about what comes next. Though this film is less packed with twists and turns than its predecessor, it still oozes tension and reveals that keep you nervously tapping the entire 90 runtime. While the film’s influences are palpable it remaining its own thing, as it exploits paranoia in ways that will remind you of Hitchcock thrillers.
Aside from the protagonist being a wheelchair user, the film uses confusion and uncertainty leaving the audience questioning what is real as much as Chloe does. The power of gas-lighting and the loss of control are where much of the horror comes from, Chloe slowly discovering how much power she has given to her mother and her adaptability in trying to steal in back. Everything Chloe attempts takes time, and director Chaganty draws it out.
The computer screen of Searching was a monumental achievement, but director Chaganty proves he can find ways to turn everyday situations into nail biting suspense scene that at least partially forgive the surface-level issues with the plot. For example, Diane’s phone conversation with their pharmacist, Chloe’s late-night Google searching and several other memorable scenes that I won’t divulge for fear of spoiling anything are clear highlights and add to a smattering of well executed scenes that add a lot of flavor.
While the film largely focuses on Chloe’s discovery of, well, just about everything that has happened and continues to happen to her, unraveling Diane’s point of view is just as compelling. “Will she be okay?” is the first line we hear Diane speak as she pours over her sick newborn in the hospital. While as a parent I can relate to or imagine her heartache here, our understanding of her mental capacity diverges most dramatically thereafter. When we learn that Diane’s understanding of protection and love border on insanity, our emotions swiftly switch gears.
The film also employs many clever techniques that sets it apart from other thrillers. Both Diane and Chloe are constantly seen descending the stairs of their home, always going down rather than upwards towards progress. For Chloe, the stairs are an obstacle, one that is used against her by her mother, but later on becomes her greatest advantage.
For all its excitement though, the film does fall short in the script department, frequently explaining things away too easily, or, in the case of this one strange shower scene, not explaining things at all. There are too many conveniences, like the pile of evidence just laying out in a box for Chloe to rifle through, quickly brushing aside the mystery aspect before that thematic shift into a more action-oriented thriller. It’s all very predictable, even the closing scene is easy to see coming, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of the piece as whole.
Of course, for such kind of a thriller, the performances are what make or break the film, thankfully here, the latter is the case. Sarah Paulson continues to prove why she has become a staple in horror circles as she continues her streak to spook and satisfy. Where many would have the temptation to go over the top, she opts instead for subtlety, making this Paulson‘s most unsettling-but-hypnotizing performance.
But it is Kiera Allen, the young disabled debutante actress who is truly the star. Here, her performance is finely modulated emotionally, and she does an incredible job in the role. Too often are characters with disabilities played by actors who aren’t disabled, and it is great to see Allen on screen playing Chloe, a compelling character who is not defined by her disability and also kicks ass. Knowing that about the actress certainly adds a layer of anxiety to a stunt sequence involving a roof. Pat Healy also manages to leave a mark in his small cameo. On the whole, ‘Run’ is an enjoyable nail-biting horror thriller which despite its formulaic concept deserves praise especially for its powerhouse performances.
Directed – Aneesh Chaganty
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 90 minutes