Movie Review: Run
By Matthew Huntley
November 26, 2020
Question: if you committed a despicable crime, one that was high-profile enough to make the local headlines, would you really keep potentially incriminating evidence of it in an old shoebox, as if its contents were something you’d one day want to put in a scrapbook? “Oh look, this was the day I [insert crime committed here] and this the newspaper article that covered the story.”
*Spoiler alert*: This happens in the frivolous and generically titled, “Run,” a would-be thriller that almost seems deliberate about being ordinary and forgetful. To call the movie bad, which it is, wouldn’t be as apt as calling it bland, because bad at least suggests ambition. Generally speaking, bad movies attempt to do something but fail; while bland movies typically mail things in and leave us asking why they were even made, although ultimately not caring too much about the answer. “Run” is unfortunately a bland movie.
It’s unfortunate for all the usual reasons — the plot and characters lack depth; the narrative is void of tension and excitement; and there’s little reason to invest in the outcome of the events — but it’s especially disappointing when you consider the talent involved. For starters, the director and co-writer is Aneesh Chaganty, who helmed 2018’s tightly wound and technically innovative “Searching,” also a thriller but one that was much better at rattling our nerves and filling us with dread and apprehension, which is what any good thriller should do.
What’s more is that “Run” stars Sarah Paulson, a gifted, versatile actress who has deservedly stood out in such ensemble cast projects as “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” “Ocean’s Eight” and “Glass.” Even if we weren’t privy to her repertoire, we’d realize early on she’s too talented for something as mediocre as “Run.”
The essential problem is the characters and story lack dimension and credibility, and therefore we’ve little incentive to care about them. Not that it needed to be this way, because it opens with a heartrending incident: Diane Sherman (Paulson) gives birth to a premature baby girl, who’s so small and fragile we know the words “arrythmia,” “hemochromatosis,” “asthma” and “diabetes,” which fade on-screen along with their respective definitions, will apply to her. It’s a sad situation.
Flash forward 17 years and Diane, a single mom, is now a full-time caretaker for Chloe (Kiera Allen), who’s bright, industrious and a bona fide chemistry whiz (her room is filled with lab equipment that we suspect will play a role in the plot somewhere down the line). Chloe has normal mental faculty and agency but her premature birth has left her physically disabled, leaving her without the use of her legs and confined to a wheelchair. She also takes several medications a day that we assume are meant to treat the conditions listed above. It’s just Diane and Chloe in their big rural home outside Seattle, where Chloe is homeschooled but has her heart set on the University of Washington.
Clearly, Diane and Chloe’s unique arrangement and mother-daughter relationship could have made for a compelling narrative, be it for a drama or a thriller, but the conflict that ensues is surprisingly dopey. It feels rushed and half-baked. Apparently, Chloe’s desire to go away to college next year strikes a nerve with Diane and it causes her to flip. We see evidence of this early on when she attends a meeting for parents who homeschool their children, where Diane becomes quite defensive and resentful when talking about Chloe. Has she always been this way? Did Chloe herself ever suspect her mom could be so terse and obsessed? We’re not sure, but in any case, she will soon.
One day, Chloe, wanting to know if she’s received a college acceptance letter, goes snooping and discovers the name on the prescription bottle for one of her new pills is actually Diane’s. “Oh that’s just the receipt,” Diane explains. But Chloe isn’t sold, especially when this coincides with other odd happenings, such as the internet suddenly going down and Chloe being unable to research her medication online. She manages to investigate in other ways and takes more drastic measures to find out exactly what her mother is up to, and soon enough “Run” turns into a milder, less thoughtful version of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” or “Misery.”
Most of the movie’s problems exists at the screenplay level rather than the performance level. Chaganty penned the script with Sev Ohanian, whom he also partnered with on “Searching,” and it takes too long to suggest Diane’s motivation for tormenting her daughter. Altogether, the film only runs about an hour and 25 minutes (without the closing credits), and it wasn’t until the two-thirds mark that I started to understand why Diane would commit such reprehensible and abusive acts toward someone she supposedly loves.
Still then, it’s not exactly clear why Diane behaves so harshly and maniacally. The film doesn’t bother exploring her inner turmoil, her pain, or her sadness to any substantive degree. We feel the same about Chloe, who otherwise earns our sympathy, and the result is our only mostly seeing both characters in terms of thriller archetypes, with Diane as the overreaching antagonist and Chloe as the hapless victim. We only gain a soft sense of them as actual people, although even this gets diluted when Chloe comes across the incriminating evidence I mentioned earlier. Would Diane really be so absent-minded as to lock Chloe, over whom she wants to maintain complete control, in the same room as all the documentation that more or less confirms Diane’s guilt and past criminal behavior? I just didn’t buy she’d be so careless and that Chloe would just happen to find it.
Despite being silly and unconvincing, as just a serviceable, attention-holding thriller, “Run” is not very well made. The routine devices Chaganty and his crew employ to stir and unsettle the audience only go so far before we start to anticipate them well ahead of time, which weakens the surprise factor. Things like rack focusing in on the evil character, who’s spying from a distance; a gullible supporting character we suspect is just a victim-to-be; the series of physical challenges Chloe must overcome before Diane catches her; and the deliberate stalling of obvious explanations to other characters, which are meant to make us tense but actually frustrate us because we know smart people are being instructed to act clueless.
In the end, “Run” is more puzzling than anything else. However, it’s not because the story and characters leave us wondering about the events that transpired and we want to talk about them with other viewers. Rather, it’s because the filmmakers have us questioning how they could have gotten so many things wrong.
When you place “Searching” and “Run” side by side, they have a lot in common: both are about a desperate parent willing to take extreme measures to protect, or in this case, control, his or her child; both are about how technology plays a vital role in keeping track of other people; and both are about the disquieting feeling we get upon learning a shocking truth about someone we thought we knew. And while I know “Searching” and “Run” are very different when it comes to the plot details, it’s still interesting that two movies with such similar themes, and directed by the same filmmaker, could render such different results. Whereas “Searching” was credible, thrilling and stylistically original, “Run” is comparatively dull and inconsequential. Funnily enough, its title actually serves as instruction to the audience when considering watching it.