A film review by Craig J. Koban June 15, 2021

RUN jjj

2021, R, 89 mins.

Kiera Allen as Chloe Sherman  /  Sarah Paulson as Diane Sherman  /  Pat Healy as Tom

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty  /  Written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian


RUN (which premiered last fall on Hulu before hitting Netflix internationally weeks ago) comes from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, whom previously made the very topical genre effort in 2018's SEARCHING, which proved that you can tell an old school exercise in paranoia and terror in refreshing new ways.  At a super tight, lean and mean 89 minutes, the filmmaker's latest effort continues to show his willingness to go against the grain of audience expectations in the manner that it finds unexpectedly clever ways of subverting the "mad fill-in-the-blank from hell" stalker thriller genre, and it's all done with maximum generated  unease in the most efficient manner possible.  That, and it features a star making turn by newcomer Kiera Allen (the first wheelchair born actress to star in any modern thriller), and it's such a revelatory piece of emotionally and physically grounded acting that it helps make some of the more implausible elements of RUN all the more digestible.   

The opening of the film is terrifyingly bleak and sets the tone immediately for the greater nightmares to come.  We see Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) in a hospital and looking in extremely rough shape.  She has just given birth to a very premature baby, who tragically looks like its suffering from multiple aliments that will probably affect her for the rest of her natural life.  Diane is predictably crestfallen by the discovery that her bundle of joy will probable never have a normal upbringing.  The film then abruptly flashforwards nearly two decades to the present, and we meet back up with Diane and her now teenager daughter in Chloe (Allen), who still deals with a multitude of debilitating illnesses, such as arrhythmia, asthma and diabetes, but beyond her obvious limitations seems like a fairly regular and well adjusted 18-year-old girl.  She's hungry for an education and is indeed a remarkably bright minded go-getter and dreams of one day attending the University of Washington.   

There's just one major problem: Washington is several hours away and Chloe has lived an incredibly sheltered existence as a strictly regulated home school kid since as far back as she can remember.  Beyond her stay-at-home elementary and high school education, Chloe's goes through painstakingly regimented physical therapy sessions daily on top of having her meds monitored to maximize her health and well being.  All of this is controlled and overseen by Diane, who outwardly appears like an extremely dedicated and committed mother that looks after her daughter's every need.  All in all, this mother/daughter tandem seems as close knit and healthy as any...that is until the script begins to slowly reveal some troublesome aspects of Chloe's home life, like the fact that - despite being an intelligent young woman with a real future ahead of her - she has never owned or been allowed to use a smart phone, nor has she been given her own Internet access.  Hmmmmmm.... 



It gets weirder.  

Diane begins to demonstrate some, shall we say, possessive tendencies when it comes to sheltering Chloe from the outside world altogether, a world that she desperately wants to become a part of, but always seems out of her grasp.  Chloe begins to have suspicions about her mother's intentions when Diane always seems to catch the mail as it arrives just before Chloe is able to nab it (the teen has been waiting and waiting for a college admission letter for what seems like an agonizing eternity). Then Chloe experiences a very alarming discovery about some new medication that she's been on that really might not be appropriate for her...or humans in general (there's something just off about the label).  It's hard for her to do any clandestine sleuthing, especially because her mother is a control freak that doesn't allow her daughter any access to check things out online.  Through fairly ingenious means, Chloe is able to make it to the family drug store to confirm her deepest fears that her mother is suffering from several loose screws, leading to this vulnerable and shocked girl fearing for her life and well being. 

RUN truly begins to hit its creative stride when we go on the chilling journey of discovery with Chloe about who she is, what drives her mother, and what's actually behind her aggressive shielding proclivities.  Like all great thrillers, there are multiple setbacks by the young hero in trying to confirm her largest doubts about her mom, which stems from her lack of access to technology and that her mom has a fairly well regarded reputation in the community.  There's not a lot of action, per se, in RUN, but what Chaganty does thanklessly well here is generate multiple sustained moments of frightening tension and unease in the most modest of ways. One fairly ingenuous and nerve wracking moment involves the hyper stressed Chloe randomly calling a complete stranger to use his phone or computer's online search capabilities to find out what is actually up with her meds that Diane is spoon feeding her daily...and without the mom finding out.  The real standout set piece in the film is the aforementioned one at the drug store, which begins with a fairly ordinary mother/daughter trip to the movies.  Chloe strategically asks to be excused to go the restroom during the showing, but she doesn't and instead rapidly wheels herself down the road to the local drug store to confront the pharmacist about her pills.  When she gets there a line-up of dozens impedes her progress.  It's a devilishly well engineered sequence that would have made Hitchcock proud.   

That's really what makes RUN maintain such a breakneck intensity throughout: It shows an ultra resourceful adolescent that has zero access to vital resources (not to mention being riddled with multiple physical disabilities that stymies her movement and greatly affects her strength and stamina) doing whatever she can to find out the dark and hidden truths about her potentially nuttier-than-a-fruitcake mother.  All of this makes for a deeply disturbing watch, especially for how Chaganty manages to evoke ratcheted up suspense in clever and unexpected ways because of the main heroine's impairments.  RUN is utterly held together by the bravura performance by Allen as this traumatized teen, who's called upon to do things physically intimidating here (remember, she's wheelchair bound in real life like her character) on top of having her character being hurtled through a breathless gambit of horrifying discoveries that continually threaten her safety and sanity.  Paulson obviously has the juicier of the two roles as her might-be or might-not-be villain here, and she definitely goes for broke in harnessing the extremes of her character's damaged psyche.  Both actresses are nice foils to one another, and as unnerving as Paulson is in the film I found myself gravitating to Allen more for the way that she has to dial into a more plausible registry to make her victimized protagonist feel relatable and real in the midst of all of this film's madness (that sometimes teeters towards macabre camp, but thankfully doesn't go over the edge). 

The thematic undercurrents to RUN are thoroughly unsettling as well, which dabbles into the nature (and dangers) of unhealthily close mother/daughter bonds on top of being perhaps a cautionary tale of the horrors of insanely protective parenting employing power tripping manipulation to gain a stranglehold over kids to the insane and paradoxical point of irresponsible carelessness (this movie might do for home schooled children what JAWS did for water enthusiasts).  I wish that RUN didn't get quite so crazy in its latter stages, and it arrives and a climatic and obligatory standoff that seems disingenuous to what came before (the final scene of the movie - set well in the future - seems like a bit of a sensationalistic cheat).  Having said that, RUN is a genuinely terrifying psychological thriller made up of some of the nuts of bolts of well worn and similar thrillers before it, but the makers here somehow never wallow in tired and stale conventions and instead give their twisted tale a fiendishly shrewd new edge all uniquely their own.  

  H O M E