If there’s one trope that horror loves to explore, its familiar bonds. This is a trope that dates back to Frankenstein and his monster, but it has gone in different directions. There’s something inherently scary about raising a monster, or in the case of this film, raised by a monster (maybe too strong a word?), who loves you in their own special way. It is a parent’s duty, is it not, to do “anything” for their child? Originally set to release in conjunction with Mother’s Day, Run was one of the many cinematic casualties put on hiatus by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a shame because it had one of the best marketing campaigns for a horror film this year. The hype didn’t seem to die, however, as Run has become the most-watched original film released on Hulu at this time. Was this film worth the hype?
Chloe, played by Kiera Allen, is a seventeen-year-old paraplegic with other chronic illnesses, and a talent for engineering and tinkering. She lives on the outskirts of a small town with her mother, Diane, played by Sarah Paulson, who has been her sole caretaker and basically her only friend. Despite her mom’s consistent doting on her, Chloe is quite capable of getting herself around, and sneaking extra sweets under her mom’s nose. It’s this precociousness that leads her to find a prescription of green pills hidden, for her mother, in the groceries. Initially, she thinks nothing of it, until Diane informs Chloe that her doctor changed one of her daily medicines and presents one of the green pills to her. Skeptical, Chloe checks the bottle the next day to see that Diane has glued a new label over the original one with Chloe’s name on it. Wary of taking it, Chloe attempts to research the pill during the night, but the internet connection is cut. Questions start to brew: why is Diane keeping Chloe from using the internet? Why is she keeping her from seeing the mail? And why does she only let her use the phone if she’s in the room? These growing concerns escalate as Chloe realizes she may be a prisoner in her safest space. But she has yet to find out the secret Diane is keeping.
Run is a welcome, straight-forward thriller that is proudly updating its influences. It would be appropriate to call this film Rear Window meets Misery, as Run wears these two films on its shoulders, even sneakily naming a minor character Kathy Bates as an Easter egg. This is director Aneesh Chaganty’s second feature film following Searching, the film to fully realize the “screen grab found-footage” niche that became popular over the last decade. Run proves that Chaganty, and his co-writer, Sev Ohanian are more than capable of delivering a traditional narrative. In fact, they excel at it, as this is one of the tensest films I’ve seen in a long time. Leave it to the director of Searching to make the internet pinwheeling scary. This whole film becomes a masterclass in pacing and editing, courtesy of Nick Johnson and Will Merrick. There’s even a Carpenter-style reveal of Diane watching Chloe from the shadows in one scene.
On the casting side, Run is mainly just a character piece for the two leads. Sarah Paulson offers a great performance which is a give-in. She has always been talented at playing characters that you either root for or root against. You really feel for Diane at the start, seeing her as a mother who gave birth to a baby prematurely and is in a position where hir life has been entirely devoted to that mother/caregiver role. That caring nature begins to grow darker as the questions pile up and she starts to gaslight and show visible desperation. If anything, this character proves that Paulson needs to play a full-on villain by the end of American Horror Story.
On the other end, newcomer, Kiera Allen holds her own and really shines. This would be a physically demanding role for any actor, but upon learning that Allen uses a wheelchair in real life, some scenes take on more weight. There are a few excruciating scenes watching her drag herself across various surfaces that make you feel the pain and discomfort she’s in. But Allen really owns the role, showing an incredible range of emotion throughout; and able to think on her feet to find outlandish ways to get out of her increasingly desperate situation.
Another praise worthy aspect of Run would have to be its set design, by production designer, Jean-Andre Carriere. The primary location of Diane and Chloe’s house has a very box-like aura, which begins to feel more like a prison as the film progresses. Box imagery is featured throughout, beginning with a NIC Unit in the opening scene. The whole house is even covered, wall to wall, in picture frames of the mother and daughter, a detail that the film doesn’t linger on, but it’s all the more sinister. Even small items, like a Nintendo GameCube illustrate the theme of entrapment (a bit of stretch but you’ll get it).
Overall, Run is a surefire candidate for many top ten lists this year. It’s a story you know you’ve seen before, but this has a lasting fresh spin that will have you thinking about it for weeks on end. Sure, there are some scenes where you’ll be questioning your suspension of disbelief, but the visual presentation more than makes up for it. It’s easy to call this a modern Hitchcockian tale, but when your film is able to make cutting to a character who’s driving closer to the house suspenseful, then I think the master would be pleased. I’m hopeful that this will be the start of a great film career for Kiera Allen. Horror has always been the proving ground for the best talent.
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