'Run': Film Review

Courtesy of Hulu
Two in a row makes Chaganty a suspense auteur to watch.

Aneesh Chaganty's follow-up to 'Searching' watches as a teen (Kiera Allen) tries to escape the clutches of her desperately possessive mother (Sarah Paulson).

A delicious Hitchcockian thriller about the perils of maternal codependency, Aneesh Chaganty's sophomore feature Run proves wrong anyone who might've suspected the attention given to his 2018 Sundance darling Searching was due to its screens-centric formal gimmick. (The film, which opened the online Nightstream festival Thursday, will debut on Hulu November 20th.)

Dueling excellent performances from a deranged Sarah Paulson and spunky newcomer Kiera Allen (in her feature debut) make it hard to look away from the screen, not that the pacing of Chaganty and Sev Ohanian's script allows much opportunity for distraction.

Paulson plays Diane, who has spent the last seventeen years as sole caregiver for a child with an assortment of special needs: Chloe (Allen) is paralyzed from the waist down, diabetic and asthmatic, has serious heart and skin issues — everything but a nut allergy, it seems. Yet she's a remarkable girl: bright, resourceful, and eager to start life on her own just as soon as the University of Washington sends her an acceptance letter.

Opening scenes displaying the friendly ease of the pair's home-school routine — handfuls of pills throughout the day, a rigorous lesson plan, a surprising lack of teen resentment — also casually inform us that this kid, unlike nearly all others, has no always-on connections to the outside world. No phone, and seemingly no computer in her room, though one wonders how she uses the 3D printer she's repairing without one. The point is, it would not be easy to do detective work if she were to suddenly worry Mom might be up to something shady.

Well, she is. At least one of the pills she's giving Chloe wasn't prescribed for the girl. The first couple of scenes after Chloe's suspicions arise observe how quickly the two women improvise, each pulling plausible lies out of the air with a smile when the other asks a dangerous question. Neither buys the responses, but neither will admit it. Chloe finds clever ways to seek answers about the prescription, and the script neatly thwarts them — until a nail-biting sequence in which she learns what's being done to her. Diane catches her mid-discovery, and the film enters full-on Misery mode, with the wheelchair-bound girl held prisoner in her own bedroom.

What do you do when you can't walk, your bedroom door is barred and you're on the second floor? Chaganty stages an answer that blends MacGyver-like ingenuity, ticking-clock tension and palpable physical peril. Once the scene is done, you might suspect there was an easier solution. Try not to let that ruin the thrill.

While Chaganty's go-to composer Torin Borrowdale supplies a classic-feeling orchestral backdrop, the film keeps us guessing without seeming too thirsty to impress us with twists. The couple of big ones in store make the most of the plot's metaphors about the dark side of procreation and a child's existential need to create her own identity.

Having given us a rescue-minded dad in Searching and a daughter who must do her own rescuing here, perhaps Chaganty will next build a thriller around that most familiar archetype, the mother who'll surmount any obstacle to protect her child. If so, don't count on it going quite the way you expect.

Venue: Nightstream Film Festival
Production company: Lionsgate
Distributor: Hulu
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Pat Healy, Sara Sohn
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Screenwriters: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Producers: Sev Ohanian, Natalie Qasabian
Director of photography: Hillary Spera
Production designer: Jean-Andre Carriere
Costume designer: Heather Neale
Editors: Nick Johnson, Will Merrick
Composer: Torin Borrowdale
Casting director: Rich Delia

PG-13, 89 minutes