After breaking onto the film scene in 2018 with “Searching,” a stylized and intricate webcam thriller filled with unique twists and turns, writer/director Aneesh Chaganty left audiences eager to see what he’d do next. “Run,” which makes its world premiere at NIGHTSTREAM, a virtual festival launched because of the COVID-19 pandemic, doesn’t use the same web-based style but ends up being a more effective and enticing thriller.
“Run,” which will stream on Hulu in November, follows Chloe (Kiera Allen), a teenager forced to be homeschooled by her mother, Diana (Sarah Paulson, TV’s “Ratched”), because of countless illnesses and paraplegia. Chloe and her mother seem to have a great bond and heavily rely on one another daily, although Chloe still yearns for a life outside of her childhood home and hopes that she gets accepted into a local college.
After finding a medication that Diana makes her take labeled for Diana instead, Chloe becomes suspicious of her mom’s motives and discovers dark secrets about her upbringing.
Chaganty is immensely effective in creating the film’s tense thrills through sheer, old-school simplicity. None of the big twists are presented in a flashy way and instead become impactful with something that most modern-day thrillers lack – great timing and editing. The score from Torin Borrowdale and sound design come in at just the right moments to heighten Chloe’s discoveries.
Chaganty perfectly knows how to catch viewers off-guard by insinuating the direction things are going, then cutting to what’s actually happening. As he slowly doles out information for us to piece together, “Run” evokes all of the excellence of a Hitchcockian classic and even some early M. Night Shyamalan. But the incredible script co-written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian (“Searching”) makes “Run” stand on its own.
The second Chloe becomes suspicious of her mother’s decisions and intentions, the film becomes a vicious domino effect that makes us more invested in uncovering Diana’s secrets. “Run” is an intense horror story of someone becoming aware that someone close to her isn’t exactly whom she thinks they are and realizing that there’s a deeper darkness within. Every discovery that Chloe makes not only about her mother but also about her condition ramps up the tension between them tenfold, and things quickly become a “fight for your life” situation. Every scene keeps us on our toes as we watch a nightmarish battle for control between a mother and daughter play out before our eyes.
Chaganty and Ohanian manage to sprinkle in some lighthearted humor to create a balanced roller-coaster ride, but the stellar duo of Paulson and Allen really make “Run” worth watching. Paulson brings the creepy goods as usual, with a performance that feels a tad familiar because of her time on “American Horror Story” but in all the right ways. She brings an element of care to Diana that makes her seem harmless at times, but she’s able to turn on a dime to someone much more broken and disturbed. Paulson brings out Diana’s desperation to be a great mother in a horrific fashion, which makes everything that Chloe finds out about her so chilling.
The real breakout star of “Run,” though, is Allen as she makes Chloe one of the most intelligent and capable protagonists in recent horror history. Although her character uses a wheelchair (like Allen in real life), Chloe is a total badass who proves on multiple occasions to be quick-minded, intuitive, and very aware of her surroundings. Even when she faces obstacles that just scream doom and gloom, she never gives up, which makes us instantly connect with her. Allen also brings a lot of likable charm to the character and physicality to her performance that adds a lot of authenticity and intensity to the role. She’s certainly someone to keep your eyes on in the future.
“Run” does soften some of its impact through an opening that clues in viewers perhaps too early that something could be off with Diana. Nevertheless, the twists and turns are jaw-dropping and amazingly presented.
With “Run,” Chaganty diminishes any thought of a filmmaker’s sophomore slump and creates one of the tensest thrill rides of the year. It’s actually a shame that “Run” couldn’t make its way into theaters traditionally as it’s easily the kind of film that’s a real crowd pleaser. Those who are fortunate to see it on Hulu will enjoy a Hitchcockian thriller from the mind of a rising visionary.