Synopsis: A home schooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her. They say you can never escape a mother’s love… but for Chloe, that’s not a comfort — it’s a threat.
Stars: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Pat Healy, Onalee Ames
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Back in 2013, Readers Digest made headlines for announcing their list of the 100 Most Trusted People in America and it included a number of celebrities and familiar names in the media. Not surprisingly, Tom Hanks ranked as the most trusted man and I’d wager a bet he’d still hold the title if the list were refreshed again today. I also would like to think Sarah Paulson would have made her way into the tally as well. While not the blockbuster star that regularly nets the covers of magazines or headlines summer movies, Paulson has developed a massively consistent career over nearly thirty years in the business and that’s something to take serious note of, not to mention she’s someone that comes across as genuine, upfront, and who you can take at her word. Another item to pay close attention to is that she’s rarely, if ever, turned in a bad performance and her knack for finding material that both suits and challenges her has proven her dexterity time and time again.
Paulson is one of the main reasons why Run, a conventional thriller at its core, becomes more than the sum of its parts. Compact, tightly-wound, and from the director of 2018’s underrated Searching (Aneesh Chaganty), it wouldn’t feel out of place as one of those cookie-cutter original films you’d see dropped rather innocuously on a streaming service with the hope it will generate some buzz. That’s the likely reason why Hulu snapped this up from Lionsgate after the studio decided to bypass a theatrical run when the ongoing pandemic put its original Mother’s Day release date into question. It’s probably a small blessing, too, because it will find far more success as a guilty-pleasure watch. Much like Paulson’s early 2020 Netflix series Ratched, this is compulsive watching at its most tart, lean, and digestible.
As the film opens, single-mother Diane Sherman (Paulson, 12 Years a Slave) has gone through a difficult labor that has left her newborn with a number of life-threatening medical concerns. Flash forward eighteen years and Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen) is a brilliant teen that has survived under the watchful care of her mother. Home-schooled by Diane, the wheelchair-bound Chloe looks toward the future and plans for college, eagerly waiting for Diane to get the mail each day but ultimately disappointed when no acceptance letter arrives from the numerous applications she has submitted. The relationship between mother and daughter is a close one, based on a shared understanding of Chloe’s various illnesses and familiarity with her daily needs. While Chloe may long for a world outside of their isolated house off the beaten path and desire friends of her own because she has none, she’s torn between her own growing need for escapism and Diane’s devotion.
A sizable shift happens and a crack in this perfect veneer begins to form when Chloe accidentally sees a pill bottle with Diane’s name on it that later is relabeled as hers, a finding her mother later unconvincingly refutes. Catching her mother in a lie for the first time, Chloe starts to wonder what else is being kept from her the more she learns other small untruths Diane has been telling. Though Diane attempts to provide a passable excuse for all of these discrepancies, the tie that has been bound between the two women makes it easier to expose the other in a deception so when Chloe exposes another huge betrayal, it opens a trap door of deceit that she (and we) couldn’t have ever anticipated. Secluded from outside help and limited in mobility, Chloe must arrange a precarious puzzle to get past a firewall of a long-buried mystery if she wants to survive.
Had Run been a tad more prestige-y, I could see Diane being played by more of a headline-grabbing A-lister like Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock and it working just fine. Roberts especially would have had some fun playing a different kind of pseudo-villain (unlike the one she misguidedly played in Mirror Mirror) but both actresses have the necessary range to take on the layers the role requires. It works so much better in Paulson’s carefully constructed façade because we’re constantly questioning almost up until the end just what is motivating Diane in her actions…or if she’s even doing what Chloe thinks in the first place. Could the sheltered girl just be wrong about her mother, there’s definitely evidence to explain it all away. I won’t say either way but Paulson has truly perfected the art of playing with a duality that is often thrilling to watch. She definitely has a dial, though, and isn’t afraid to go big and then go home – you’re never going to catch her not giving her all to even the smallest of supporting roles.
Along with Paulson, Run works quite well thanks to Allen as the resourceful Chloe who doesn’t let her maladies hold her back in the least. Again, no spoilers for you, but there are several instances of narrow escape weaved into the script, including one where the teenager has to figure out not only how to get out of a locked room but make it downstairs…all without assistance or the use of her legs. How she does it is masterfully thought out in Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian’s clever screenplay. Allen might just have more screen time than Paulson and she’s just as critical to the film’s success as her counterpart. Having to do most of her work in a limited capacity in terms of the use of her body, Allen gets the character through even in these tougher conditions.
Even if the screenplay falls into a feeling of run-of-the-mill happenstance as it rounds the bend toward a corker of a final scene (though all I’ll say about the make-up on both of the actors in this part is…questionable) it doesn’t dissuade me from giving Run a solid recommendation. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before but it’s done better than previous attempts and that’s due to the two leads and a better than average conception of how the characters achieve their goals. The tension gets palpable and your blood pressure will certainly rise at points – for a 90 minute film aimed as popcorn entertainment, isn’t that exactly what you’re looking for right about now?