Writer and director Aneesh Chaganty made waves two years ago with Searching, a thriller about one parent’s unwavering determination to find his missing daughter. While that film was set entirely on computer and smartphone screens, Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian ditch the gimmicks this time around for the much more straightforward Run. It may be a bit too straightforward – despite a tight script and a pair of strong performances, Run feels overly familiar, almost to the point of being derivative.
The film opens in a dreary hospital room as single mother Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson, killing it as always) gazes upon a shriveled and worrisomely tiny baby. Miraculously, the baby is breathing, and after what was no doubt a traumatic birth experience, Diane asks the doctors if her newborn daughter is going to be okay. The news is grim; a litany of medical issues such as asthma and paralysis flash across the screen, and we’re then thrown 17 years into the future as Diane, in good spirits, tells her support group that her teenage daughter is “the most capable person I know”. Chloe (Kiera Allen) is indeed capable, hoisting herself in and out of a wheelchair as she navigates a two-story house, sticking to a routine of popping pills, checking her blood levels, vomiting, and applying to numerous colleges.
Chloe is also exceptionally smart, constantly tinkering on a 3D printer and other various mechanical contraptions in her room. She and Diane seem to get along swimmingly, and there’s even a friendly mailman that greets the two each day. Life seems perfectly splendid, but as Torin Borrowdale’s creeping score makes clear, something is definitely amiss. Run gradually reveals new unnerving details and information about life at the Diane/Chloe household, like the fact that Chloe isn’t allowed to have a phone or even a computer, and the way Diane always races her daughter to grab the mail first. One day, Chloe notices that one of the medications Diane has been giving her isn’t under her name, and when she questions her mother about it, she avoids giving an answer. Distrust builds between the two of them as Chloe attempts to uncover her mother’s secrets, but the truth may be more disturbing than she could have ever imagined.
Chaganty dances around with tone until it becomes hard to discern whether Run is intended to be a morbid thriller that often tips its toes into horror territory, or a more tongue-in-cheek, almost campy ride. Absurd, intentionally humorous moments often whiplash into terrifying ones, and Chaganty plays with the setup as well, kicking things off with a mystery vibe, ramping it up into horror, and then once again switching things around to meet the promise of the film’s title. An early Stephen King reference foreshadows where a good bit of inspiration comes from (one stretch of the film draws directly from a particular King story), and it’s during these more pulpy moments that Run is at its best.
But the lack of commitment towards either direction leaves the movie in a mildly frustrating stasis, which makes the fact of the story being familiar and overdone all the more noticeable. The screenplay may still manage to keep you in suspense – it’s clear that Chaganty has studied under the Shyamalan School of Twists – but it’s far more predictable than Searching was. Still, an expected powerhouse performance from Paulson keeps things entertaining, and Allen turns Chloe into a determined and fearless protagonist who’s physical limitations make her all the more enthralling. Chaganty’s career remains something worth keeping an eye on, even if this sophomore effort doesn’t quite hit the highs of his debut.