RUN Review

I gave up on American Horror Story some time ago after consistently being intrigued for three or four episodes every year and then consistently realizing I didn't care at all about what was happening. Blame AHS for my complete lack of interest in Netflix's Ratched, but I say this to preface my review of a Sarah Paulson thriller to say I have not kept up with my Sarah Paulson performances as of late. Within those renewed opportunities I would give AHS each season though, I saw enough of the actress to understand how good she was at toeing the line between charming, conniving, and downright evil. Paulson likes to take on...complicated characters it would seem (Ocean's 8 feels more like the exception rather than the rule at this point) and that kind of duality, that type of unhinged serenity is again put to good use in writer/director Aneesh Chaganty's RUN. One may or may not recognize Chaganty's name for writing and directing 2018's Searching, but if not your memory might be jogged with the additional information that Searching is the one that takes place entirely through a computer screen and stars Harold from Harold & Kumar or Sulu from the new Star Trek films. Yep, that's the one. Searching illustrated that Chaganty had a knack for knowing how to meld story and execution in a way that provoked real understanding on the part of the character's plight while also delivering moments of genuine tension. Much of the same could be said for the filmmaker's follow-up (which he again penned with co-writer Sev Ohanian) as RUN almost feels more like an ode to Alfred Hitchcock than his previous film given the more traditional nature of the story and filmmaking approach, but while Chaganty's sophomore effort is somewhat predictable when it comes to the narrative (emphasis on somewhat due to extenuating circumstances he could not control) the film is still a grade-A thriller in regards to engaging the audience in the core mystery as well as making them feel a part of the experience. What is missing from RUN that propelled Searching into the next stratosphere though is what in fact makes this feel more like a traditional ode to Hitchcock in that there is no modern element to either convey a timely commentary or defiantly place Chaganty's own stamp on it. Instead, RUN plays things in a more orthodox fashion while doing so with the same level of craftsmanship Chaganty proved he'd mastered in his debut feature ultimately resulting in a modern mystery of a thriller that feels as if it could have debuted thirty years ago yet somehow manages to deliver if not necessarily a fresh take on the material, but a satisfying one nonetheless.  

Chloe (Kiera Allen) and her mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson), have what you might call a strained relationship in Aneesh Chaganty's RUN.
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From the opening shot Chaganty's aforementioned control over his craft is on display as a sequence of shots glide together forming this perfect type of ambiguous yet heartbreaking prologue (though, again, it doesn't touch Searching's) prior to the title screen (which I loved) that then propels us into modern day and the small, sleepy suburb where we find our main characters. Diane Sherman (Paulson) is attending a community meeting for parents who home school their children and are getting set to send them away to college (one of those things I'm sure is real, but would have never concocted in my own mind in a million years). While others present in the meeting are clearly having a tough time considering the fact they'll be sending their babies away for the first time Diane seems to have found some calm in the storm. If nothing else, Diane seems confident in the job she's done raising her daughter; referring to her as smart, brave, and having faced more emotional and physical challenges than any adult she knows makes her absolutely capable of handling herself. Diane reiterates that if there's anyone to not worry about, it's her daughter. This is all well and good seeing as Diane, unlike some of the other parents in the room, at least has a sense of self-awareness and an eye for balance in both she and her child's life. The kicker is that included in that prologue - which shows Diane in the hospital post-her daughter's difficult delivery - is a short definition for five disorders it can be assumed Diane's new baby will have to deal with. Between an arrhythmia, hemochromatosis, asthma, diabetes, and paralysis it's easy to see how Diane doesn't have an easy road ahead, so when she is in fact as composed as she appears in this college-prep meeting some seventeen years later we, as viewers, are both surprised and immediately suspicious given the genre of the movie we know we sat down to watch. It is Paulson, as previously noted with her simplistic yet creative duality, who gives the audience even the slightest bit of hope that said suspicions might be wrong whereas Chaganty and his editorial department utilize Torin Borrowdale's score and the director's pension for emphasizing his intended tone with the movement of his camera and shot compositions that otherwise sell the genre RUN is operating in. That is to say, I don't want to take away from what Chaganty has accomplished here simply because his story runs into something of a recent familiarity issue in the Munchausen syndrome by proxy category. If you're familiar with the term or the more popular story concerning said mental health issue that has gained prominence over the last few years then you'll know this is more a case of poor timing than it is a lack of originality, but if you think you already know the story then imagine it with Paulson as the antagonist and there should be little more necessary to convince you of why RUN is worth watching.   

This shouldn't take away from Chaganty's accomplishment though, largely because he does find a way to meld the drama and tension of the piece into a compelling ninety minutes even if some of the key twists and turns might be more apparent to a seasoned viewer. Paulson is a delight to watch as this woman, this mother who is so convinced of her own convictions that they overtake her logic and sense of right and wrong to the point of insanity. Nothing is scarier than someone who is wrong or completely unhinged in their actions, but wholly believe themselves to be in the right or at least well within their rights and that is the angle from which Paulson approaches Diane. While Diane is our point of entry into the story (there's never any mention of a father) she is not who comes to be our hero, the main character, or even the most complex character - which is saying something given she believes herself to love her kid more than anyone in the universe while also considering neurotoxins help keep that damn teenager in check - but it's in fact that damn teenage who comes to be the real, true anchor of not only the film but the audience's affection. As played by newcomer (and a rather revelatory one at that) Kiera Allen, Chloe is seemingly all those things her mother bragged about her being and more. Chaganty and Ohanian's script smartly sets their audience up to feel a strange sense of empathy for Diane as it wouldn't be easy dealing with all of Chloe's needs and despite the brave face her mother puts on there is obviously concern Chloe won't be able to keep up with all the necessary remedies outside this picturesque bubble her mother has created for her. Of course, it is not more than a few minutes after being invited into this bubble that we learn all is not a peachy as it appears. It's clear that Chloe feels isolated if not initially trapped by her mother's bubble and is anxious to move away though despite what her Diane tells others, letting Chloe go away to college doesn't appear to be a part of her plans at all. Even with these surface-level details it may be easy to pick up on where this thing is going as far as narrative direction is concerned, but what continues to make the experience exciting is the film's ability to build the tension between Diane's facade and Chloe's growing suspicions despite the transparency of the plot. It is through the mounting of this dynamic that we also get to know Chloe more and more as a character. As she begins investigating these irregularities in what her mother is telling her versus the evidence she's finding her personality emerges even more. At one point, Chloe yells, "I'm paralyzed, feel bad for me," in order to cut in line at a pharmacy. Chloe's ability to gather evidence of her maltreatment proves incredibly difficult given her mother has her under lock and key, but it is within these attempts that Chaganty finds reason to both craft some of the film's most suspenseful sequences as well as expand the horizon of the film beyond its largely confined storytelling space. There is one sequence in particular featuring Chloe that is both insanely tense and exhilarating while also bridging the gap from heavy suspicion to full on war between mother and daughter.       

Allen's Chloe finds herself in some dire circumstances due more to her mother's illness than her own.
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What may have originally been done out of pain devolved into a selfish game of wish fulfillment and ultimately ends not in the sad, heartbreaking ways of which true life tells us such stories can, but in the most eloquent and symmetrical of movie ways. RUN is certainly not high-art, but it feels like it was made to be while completely ignoring the fact it would undoubtedly operate within a genre typically resigned for the trashiest form of cinema. Whether that be horror or thriller, audiences tend to resort to this genre for "cozy thrills" or, in other words, for the purposes of feeling like they're doing something exciting or dangerous while strapped to the couch in their comfiest of sweatpants. RUN is fine for these purposes - perfect, even - but there is also this underlying sense of esteem to the project. Whether this kind of "prestige" is due to that of the response to Chaganty's first film or the fact Paulson is involved it's difficult to say, but what's clear is that this stature is carried over from such influential factors to the product itself largely due to the effortlessness with which it is stitched together. That is to say, no matter where the story is going Chaganty and Ohanian don't ever ease the pacing enough to allow viewers time to question the logic of what is unfolding in their story, but instead only assure the audience of their and their films intelligence by providing the character's these voices that also contain a duality in that they both prove themselves to be more than formidable in their own objectives, but non-threatening in their meager appearance. Furthermore, Chaganty and Ohanian only ask that the audience keep up with said pacing long enough to revel in those twists and turns even if they know to expect them at one point or another. That old saying of, "it's the journey, not the destination," isn't necessary applicable here as this isn't a journey anyone might recall fondly, but it works in some form due simply to how skillfully and cunningly the film unravels and concludes. Ultimately, the combination of every factor moving at the same speed carries RUN's forward momentum to the finish line by building upon the tropes it employs and either making them work in favor of the character's doing these things or turning them on their head in such a fashion that the "game" at the heart of Diane and Chloe's toxic relationship becomes more gratifying than thought conceivable ninety minutes prior. In all its lean, perfectly-balanced genre glory RUN is a pure piece of crowd-pleasing entertainment and a nail-biter down to the final minutes that features Paulson and Allen delivering top-form performances that underplay the heightened situations of their characters thus over delivering on the promise of a modern horror/thriller that would fit snugly under the descriptor of "Hitchcockian".

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