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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Run


The last time writer-director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian worked together, we got 2018's Searching, a criminally underrated thriller about a father's desperate search for his missing teenage daughter.  It was one of the few films that genuinely surprised me with its plot developments, and I even wound up listing it as one of my 10 favorite films of that year.  Their newest effort, Run, shows that they are just as effective at making a more conventional and straight forward thriller.  Even if it doesn't have the twists and turns of their last movie, this is a highly intense film that is driven by its action and narrow escapes.  

The film also marks an impressive acting debut for its lead star, Kiera Allen, a 22-year-old newcomer who I learned has been bound to a wheelchair since 2014, making her one of the few disabled actors who have had a lead role in a film.  That alone is impressive (and surprising), but she gives a genuinely strong performance here that makes me want to see her again and soon.  She plays Chloe, a bright and inventive 17-year-old who has been chronically ill since birth with heart arrhythmia, hemochromatosis, diabetes, and paralysis.  She has been home schooled her entire life by her protective mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson), and the two share what seems to be a loving and respectful relationship.  Chloe is skilled at engineering, and is waiting for an acceptance letter from the University of Washington so that she can live outside of her home for the first time.  Diane supports her daughter's decision, but whenever the mail arrives, she simply clutches it close to her chest and tells her daughter that she will let her know when the letter from the college comes.

This is one of many small red flags the movie gives us hinting that maybe the relationship between mother and daughter is not what it appears, or perhaps Diane is not okay with Chloe's decision to leave, despite what she insists.  In one of the film's early moments, Diane is at a support meeting for parents with chronically ill children, and she insists to the others that she is fine with her daughter's choice.  However, even at this point in the film, her words sound rehearsed and forced.  This is intentional, and not a knock against Paulson's performance.  And right around this time, Diane introduces a new pill to her daughter's daily medication.  Chloe gets suspicious, but all of her attempts to investigate this new medication seem to get thwarted.  When she goes downstairs to do some on line research on the drug, the house seems to have suddenly lost its internet connection.  Determined to get some answers, Chloe begins looking for the truth, and realizes that maybe everything she has known her whole life is not what she thought.

It's pretty easy to figure out where Run is going.  Within the first 10 or 15 minutes, Paulson's performance as the loving mother gives us plenty of signs that she might be more than just a little bit nuts, and might not have her daughter's best interests in mind.  Like I said, this is a much more conventional thriller than the team's last movie, which delighted in building a mystery and allowing the audience to piece the clues together along with the main character.  This time around, the emphasis is on the film's heroine realizing her life is in danger from this woman who has been protecting her as long as she can remember, and the clever means that she will use to learn the truth and hopefully escape from this situation.  The tense nature comes from the fact that Chloe could get caught in her investigation at any moment, and how she tries to hide what she's doing from her eagle-eyed mom.  Later, the movie becomes a bit more action oriented, as the girl must find a way to escape from different situations given her physical limitations, and is placed in scenarios where help is all around her, but for one reason or another, she cannot speak out.

It is Allen's performance as the young Chloe that carries this whole movie.  She is able to create an intelligent and strong lead character that the audience can immediately get behind.  She uses sympathy and humor to immediately grab the audience's attention, and then she later gets to show her intelligence and spirit when she has to make some daring attempts to either escape or find some information on just what is happening to her.  Some of her attempts to escape confinement are a bit far fetched.  There's one particular scene involving her having to break a window that plays like something out of the 80s TV show MacGyver.  This is not a subtle movie in the slightest, and it becomes less so when Sarah Paulson spends the last half hour or so of the movie screaming most of her lines.  But the film still manages to work, because it does manage to create an air of menace and intensity, and Allen is constantly engaging to watch.


Run
is much more schlocky than Searching was, but that's the kind of movie the filmmakers were going for, and they show a lot of skill in not going too far overboard for the most part, and still holding your attention without getting bad laughs.  It's quick-paced, kind of silly, and probably would have been more fun to watch with an audience (It was originally intended to hit theaters last May on Mother's Day Weekend.) than on Hulu at home.  That does unfortunately remove what could have been a fun extra element of the film, but it still manages to work watching it alone.

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