By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen and Pat Healy
Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev OhanianHulu
RUN. (yes, that’s how the title is punctuated) opens with definitions of medical conditions such as arrhythmia, asthma and paralysis, using one as a clever way to introduce the title and overall setting us up to meet Chloe Sherman (Kiera Allen), who’s afflicted by all of them. Born prematurely, the 17-year-old is confined to a wheelchair and to the rural house she shares with her mother Diane (Sarah Paulson), who has sacrificed everything to take care of her daughter–or at least, she certainly believes she has. During a group session with parents in similar situations, she professes excitement that Chloe will soon be off to college to have the life experiences she herself has given up to take care of her daughter, but you can catch a tone of resentment in there too.
Chloe is herself anxious to achieve freedom from the place where she’s been home-schooled all her life (making RUN., which just premiered as part of the Nightstream festival ahead of its November 20 Hulu debut) yet another accidentally relevant 2020 thriller). Every day’s postal delivery brings the promise of a university acceptance letter, though Diane, who always makes sure she gets to the mail first, routinely delivers the bad news that one hasn’t arrived. It’s clear early on in RUN. that Diane will go out of her way, in any number of ways, to keep Chloe from leaving her, and the first act of RUN. is devoted to Chloe’s dawning suspicions of her mom’s ulterior activities.
Which is to say, there’s not a great deal of surprise to RUN., but there is quite a bit of entertaining suspense, since writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and co-scripter Sev Ohanian are focused less on keeping us guessing about Diane and more on engaging our sympathies with Chloe. The duo previously collaborated on SEARCHING, the Screenlife thriller that gave us an omniscient computer-desktop perspective on a very different parent-daughter saga; here, the story is told from the teen heroine’s perspective as she realizes what a predicament she’s in, and they keep us rooting for Chloe as she tries to figure a way out of it, which is a particular challenge given her physical condition (plus the fact that Diane hasn’t allowed her a computer or smartphone of her own).
While publicity for RUN. has noted that Allen is the first actual wheelchair user to headline a screen thriller since Susan Peters in 1948’s THE SIGN OF THE RAM, nothing about her casting feels gimmicky while you watch her. She has a natural likability and brings just as much resilience as vulnerability to the role, and moments of humor too; Chloe is not above using her condition as a sympathy play in a desperate moment. Allen holds her own throughout RUN. opposite the gifted Paulson, adding another calculating villain to the rogues’ gallery she’s built up through AMERICAN HORROR STORY and RATCHED. It’s not news by now that she can do creepy and obsessive to a T, yet Paulson finds individualistic shadings for Diane motivated by the desire to be a mom–at any cost.
The well-performed cat-and-mouse between the two leads helps RUN. over occasional bumps in its plausibility road, as when Diane confines Chloe to what can only be described as her Exposition Room. Chaganty also keeps the tension and pacing humming consistently enough to hold your attention throughout, particularly during a lengthy midfilm stretch devoted simply to Chloe attempting an escape from her own house. Even if she can’t run, the movie hooks us with the waiting–and hoping–to see Chloe win the battle of wills with her maniacal mom.