Movie Review ~ Run (2020)


The Facts
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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

Rated: PG-13

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?

Movie Review ~ The Pale Door

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Available in theaters, on Demand and Digital August 21, 2020

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a train robbery goes bad, two brothers leading a gang of cowboys must survive the night in a ghost town inhabited by a coven of witches.

Stars: Devin Druid, Zachary Knighton, Melora Walters, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Stan Shaw, Natasha Bassett, Noah Segan, Tina Parker

Director: Aaron B. Koontz

Rated: NR

Running Length:

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When I was young, the phrase “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” always kind of creeped me out and definitely made me think twice anytime I got near a pig or a handbag.  What’s more, it never totally made sense to me until I had some real world uses for it that it would apply to.  Once, I had a birthday cake made and when I went to pick it up I found that it was decorated wrong.  When I pointed it out, the baker said they’d be happy to scrape off the decoration and put something new on top – but “ you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  The cake was a bust but a friend came through in a pinch with a replacement.

In movies, every now and then you get a silk purse of a synopsis but a sow’s ear of a film.  Such is the case with the indie horror Western The Pale Door.  Here was one that had me all in based solely on the tagline that mentioned witches and cowboys…um, sold!  The poster looked ominously freaky, it had some interesting character actors involved and I was reasonably comforted that based on the previous credits of some of the filmmakers there was serious potential.  All signs pointed to the kind of selection that would have me clamoring into a theater had it been available at a film festival as a midnight selection.

Nope.  Sow’s ear.

The story goes like this.  Years ago two brothers were orphaned on a dark night but eventually went in different directions, taking separate paths forward in life.  One brother, Duncan (Zachary Knighton), becomes an outlaw, a member of a gang of ne’er-do-wells that get by thieving from town to town.  His kid brother Jacob (Devin Druid) opts for a more respectable life working for a local saloon and keeping his money safe and sound, planning for the day when he can secure his future.  When Duncan reappears and announces his intent to rob a train filled with gold, Jacob suddenly takes an interest in his older brother’s business and joins him and his crew for a fateful heist that doesn’t bring them to quite the bounty they had anticipated.

Instead of the train carrying money, they find it’s transporting a woman (Natasha Bassett, Hail, Caesar!) in a locked and guarded box who, when eventually freed, wants to repay their kindness by inviting them back to the brothel run by her friends that’s nearby and overseen by the mysterious Maria (Melora Walters, The Master).  Starved for food, drink, and something more carnal, the posse is all too happy to accept the company of the lovely ladies of the evening…who have a nasty habit of turning into ghastly beasts when the doors are locked for the night.  The rough and rowdy robbers must survive the darkness and protect Jacob, who the blood-hungry creates have their sights set on thanks to his pure and innocent spirit.

Giving the credit where it’s certainly the most due, the screenplay from Keith Lansdale, Cameron Burns, and director Aaron B. Koontz is quite clever at times and ranks high in the imagination factor.  It’s not going into the Smithsonian for it’s witty dialogue or complex construct but there’s been thought put in on how to get from Point A to Point B and that’s enough to keep the lights on for at least the first half of the movie.  Though it’s clearly cherry-picking the good stuff off of earlier adjacent movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and Near Dark, on paper at least it has the ring of a feature that would have worked quite well.

So…what’s the sow’s ear part you’re referring to, you say?  Well…it’s one of the cheapest looking movies I’ve seen in all of 2020 and maybe in the last several years.  A fine script is one thing but it can’t save filmmaking that is bargain basement throughout.  Costumes look like they were plucked directly (or stolen outright) from an Old Time Western Photo Shop, sets are straight-up in some touristy Wild West town that was shuttered for filming, and the hysterical props that are used are filled with jarring displays like Wanted posters you’d see printed on booths at an amusement park.  On top of all of that, the actual look of the movie gives the impression of a training video for a horseback riding camp.  The old TV show Hey Dude created a more convincing Western vibe.

Performances certainly don’t help things along either.  While Druid is a respectable, if mealy-mouthed, lead, he tends to disappear as the movie progresses…vanishing almost completely behind bigger performances just as he’s supposed to come to the forefront.  That’s partly Koontz’s fault for allowing some of the supporting players (which from the looks of past credits appear to be friends) to overact to an astonishing degree.  As the lone female bandit, Tina Parker does an amusing about-face from her tightly wound role in the excellent To the Stars released earlier this summer but Pat Healy (The Innkeepers) and especially Noah Segan (Knives Out) have the munchies for the scenery throughout.  Only Walters seems to gather what she’s gotten herself into and decides to go all out…and more’s the better for it.

A disappointment through and through, this is one door that need not be opened or even gazed upon with curiosity.  What a bummer this one was, mostly because I had some true high hopes for it.  It just goes to show that a tagline alone cannot (and should not) be the only thing that entices you into a film.  The script for this one might not be quite the silk purse that we discussed earlier but it’s at least a high-density cotton that stands up to inspection if you squint a bit.  The Pale Door itself needs a padlock, though.

31 Days to Scare ~ Tales of Halloween

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ten stories are woven together by their shared theme of Halloween night in an American suburb, where ghouls, imps, aliens and axe murderers appear for one night only to terrorize unsuspecting residents.

Stars: Booboo Stewart, Adrianne Curry, Barry Bostwick, Pat Healy, Lin Shaye, Sam Witwer, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Cameron Easton, Nick Principe, Jennifer Wenger, John Savage, Adrienne Barbeau

Directors: Neil Marshall, David Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: The problem I seem to have with many horror films is follow-through.  While quite a few have a good central concept, tasked with stretching that idea to a feature running length can water down the story the filmmaker wanted to tell.  That’s what makes Tales of Halloween such a tricky treat for horror lovers because it relieves the writers and directors of the need to overstuff their campfire tales.

A nice throwback to the days of anthology horror (Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, After Midnight, Trick ‘r Treat), the 10 frightful fables featured in Tales of Halloween are very loosely drawn together by radio disc jockey (Adrienne Barbeau, maybe playing the same character she did in The Fog?) who operates in a town where all of the action takes place.  With multiple directors and writers, this could easily have been reduced to incongruous material joined together by the Halloween theme but the assembled product is remarkably consistent in tone.

While there’s not a real stinker story in the bunch, some are more effective than others and with a running length of 97 minutes you won’t have to wait long before one tale wraps up and another begins.  Starting off strong with Sweet Tooth (nvolving an urban legend of a candy monster targeting those that don’t share) the various sequences that follow feature evil trick or treaters turning the tables on a foursome with secrets of their own, a kidnapping gone terribly awry, an evil demon called upon to punish some wicked street thugs, and a super fun reversal of fortune for a backwoods killer who encounters a UFO.  Of all the mini-features, only the final one involving a rampaging killer pumpkin (don’t laugh…well, ok…laugh) is one I could see having a feature length life of its own.

The acting has its ups and downs and those craving torture-porn gore and nudity will come away empty-handed.  Still, there’s enough gross out moments and wicked twists of fate to please most horror fans looking for something new to watch.  It’s also nice to see some fun in-jokes and a whole host of familiar faces of horror from both in front of and behind the camera. Here’s hoping we get More Tales of Halloween in the future.