PLOT: A disabled girl begins to suspect her mother has a dark secret, and the more she uncovers the more she realizes her mother is not the woman she thought she was.
REVIEW: Spine-tingling. Heat-racing. Chilling. Nail-biting. Edge of your seat. Relentless. As cliché as all six of these descriptors are, when I was watching the new thriller, RUN, there was no better way I could sum up the roller coaster of sensations I felt than with that clump of words. As we head into the holiday season and are reminded of family gatherings, director Aneesh Chaganty has delivered an air-tight execution of paranoia and suspense that will surely make you think twice about sleeping under the same roof as your parents.
Following up on what remains the best entry in the “webcam” genre, SEARCHING, Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian move away from the computer screens and over to something far more traditional, but no less intense, and in many ways much more refreshing than expected. Centering on a mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson), and her daughter, Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen), the former having spent the last 17 years caring for her daughter and ensuring she stays secluded and home-schooled in rural Washington. Chloe is disabled, and due to not having function in her legs, requires a wheelchair to get around, as well as being given medications for various other illnesses she’s supposedly had her whole life. But after the somewhat feel-good early dynamics are out of the way, the paranoia and intrigue quickly set in as Chloe begins to suspect her mother is keeping far too much from her – making her think she’s far from Mother of the Year material.
As he proved with SEARCHING, Chaganty — and his returning editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick — are incredibly talented when it comes to setting the stage for tension and never letting go. This is one part having to do with keeping the mysterious goings-on small – like how Diane always seems to be right there ready to meet the postal worker who could be carrying Chloe’s acceptance letter to college – and slowly sowing the seeds of doubt. Secondly, he knows that character is the key to any good mystery, and much like with John Cho’s SEARCHING character, Chaganty and Ohanian keep their story firmly locked on Chloe as her suspicions about her mother grow and morph into pure terror.
Paulson is reliable as ever as Diane, who early on sells her as a slightly manic but mostly, seemingly, caring mother who has gone to great lengths to make sure her daughter gets the care and education she deserves. But as the layers are so meticulously pulled back, her insanity slowly evolved into madness and desperation. While her name is top-billing Paulson knows she’s not the lead here and uses her supporting time to elevate the feeling of distrust and general sketchiness, knowing as an audience you get to view her from Chloe’s perspective. Just as Chloe does, you know mom has a bunch of mess she’s hiding, but Paulson is so good as what she does that, as mom does, she never reveals too much of her hand. And as great as she is, Allen, a wheelchair user in real life, is all the more impressive for being able to keep the spotlight on herself with an incredible screen debut. And that is not used flippantly. Allen is genuinely incredible as Chloe. As well-written as her mother, Chloe is intelligent and inventive – shown via her sometimes life-saving mechanical work – and deeply curious. The more and more she reveals her mother’s dark secret the more her own fear grows, and Allen is so subtle and relatable you can’t help but hinge on her every action. Through her acting, the writing and the editing, I can’t imagine a more intense sequence involving a landline telephone conversation coming out in the last decade. Come the end, the movie has pulled no punches for Chloe, and the sheer physicality Allen takes her is truly riveting, turning this psychological thriller into a genuine survival story.
Getting the ball rolling so quickly may mean that sometimes it’s easy to stay ahead of certain elements of the mystery – the script being held back by decades of other thrillers tossing out every trick in the bag. Still, the machinations of how the mystery unfolds are still so compelling, like how chilling it is for Chloe to find out her home has no internet connection, or in how she knows even a 99-cent phone call could show up on their phones records and give her away. Everything is so well-constructed and developed that you can both take notice of the simplicity while simultaneously admiring it. That also means when big reveals and shocking moments do happen, they hit like a sledgehammer and send you tumbling into the next phase of the story unable to catch your breath.
As with comedies, I try not to offer too much explanation into how the movie works and how it can be so often terrifying and compelling, as that would only diminish the surprise of taking the journey for yourself. But there’s a lot that RUN reaffirms – including the talent of Chaganty, his returning team, and that Paulson is truly one of the best we have working right now. Factor in a few surprises, like the show-stealing work of Allen and its ability to derive a ton of tension with familiar ingredients, and the only thing disappointing about RUN is that we won’t be able to see it with a packed house filled with sweating palms and raised neck hairs.