In 2018, first-time writer-director Aneesh Chaganty exploded with his debut feature, “Searching.” Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian took a gimmick – a film taking place entirely on the screens of various devices – and elevated it into one of the year’s best thrillers, and honestly, best films, regardless of genre.
Now, the duo has shed the limitations of MacBook screens and FaceTime calls and entered into the real world where they ask the question: Can a parent possibly love a child too much?
Rather than a parent willing to do whatever it takes to find their daughter, “Run” flips the script and explores just how far a mother is willing to go to keep her daughter – and it does so in a deeply unsettling and gripping manner.
Chloe (Kiera Allen) can never remember a time without her mother. As a wheelchair-bound teenager with a laundry list of ailments, her mom, Diane (Sarah Paulson), is never more than an arms length away – and usually with a spare inhaler or glucose meter in hand. Diane wouldn’t have it any other way, though, as a doting mother who’s entire identity is comprised of her daughter’s dependency on her.
On the cusp of graduating high school – where she’s home schooled, of course – and heading off into the real world without her mother’s guidance, Chloe’s once-clear world begins to turn cloudy. Chloe discovers one of the staple prescriptions in her daily medicinal cocktail is actually prescribed to Diane, and after a bit of digging, her mother’s antics begin to look more and more sinister. Suddenly, Chloe’s lack of a cell phone, internet connection and general access to the outside world can no longer be brushed aside as the behaviors of a protective mother, but instead are part of something much darker.
There’s no denying the subject matter alone is enough to create a chilling thriller, but it’s the performances that elevate “Run” to the next level – particularly that of Paulson. Over the last decade, Paulson has established herself as somewhat of a modern horror icon, anchoring the “American Horror Story” franchise and dabbling in other freaky shows and films, and her eeriness is once again on display here. Diane begins as a well put together, loving mother, but before long she is completely unhinged, and Paulson portrays the twist in a way only she can.
Opposite Paulson is newcomer Kiera Allen, the latest beneficiary of Chaganty’s strategy of pairing veteran stars with up-and-coming actors. Allen more than holds her own against the seasoned professional, although she’s often the one reacting to the terror rather than delivering it. Chloe too goes through a transformation as her world is shattered, and Allen’s increasingly frantic performance matches her character’s experience at every turn.
Allen’s casting also marks a huge win for on-screen representation, considering she’s a wheelchair user in real life, not simply an actor pretending to use one. Rather than opt to put a more experienced performer in the chair, Chaganty said there was never a doubt their leading actor would also be disabled – and Allen earned the role.
Chaganty’s steady hand is felt throughout the film, as he slowly and methodically develops both his story and his characters. The pacing is deliberate as he uses the first act to establish the daily routine of Chloe and Diane – their isolation, and the daughter’s extreme dependency on her mother. Once audiences are lulled to sleep in the caring arms of a seemingly loving mother, Chaganty delivers the first of many twists.
Most viewers entering into “Run” will see this first twist coming – the growing distrust of Diane’s intentions – but the reveals keep coming until Chaganty has viewers questioning everything they know about the world he has built. It’s truly an equally magnificent and horrific psychological thriller.
After stepping onto the scene with a film as highly regarded as “Searching” at just 27 years old, Chaganty’s work was cut out for him if he planned on topping his debut. While “Run” may not surpass its predecessor, it certainly comes close and proves itself a worth entry in the familial-thriller genre Chaganty is establishing.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.