Aneesh Chaganty’s latest thriller, the Hulu original film “Run,” combines the claustrophobic intensity of “Misery” and “Rear Window” with the complicated and sometimes over-the-top mother/daughter dynamics of “Mother Dearest.” These influences come together to form a 90-minute potboiler that leaves enough to the audience’s imagination to suspend disbelief, even when later plot developments get a little silly.
Kiera Allen stars as Chloe, a bright 17-year-old girl who was born prematurely, leaving her with many life-altering abnormalities, such as diabetes, skin rashes, asthma and below-the-waist paralysis. Diane (Sarah Paulson) is Chloe’s mother who works as her primary caretaker and educator, and she keeps a strict diet and medication schedule on her daughter, even limiting her time online and prohibiting her from owning a smartphone. Despite these challenges, Chloe plans to move away for college, leaving her single mother with an empty nest.
As Chloe patiently waits for her acceptance letter to arrive, she notices a new pill added to her daily regimen. This new capsule alarms the naturally inquisitive girl when she discovers her mother’s name on the bottle, prompting her to research the properties of this drug to find out if she should even be taking it.
The seeds of many genres weave their way into the taut feature: a medical thriller, a familial horror story and a paranoid Hitchcockian mystery. The film works because Chaganty has enough faith in his actors to deliver the story without sagging the narrative tension with unnecessary exposition. We peel back the layers of the mystery along with our protagonist and her discovery becomes our discovery. This approach has always been the most natural and effective way to approach suspense, both within each scene and within the overall storytelling.
Paulson walks a tightrope between subtle and creepy, momentarily leaving enough time for the audience to question her intentions. As things wrap up, her character ever so slightly drifts into campy territory, which could be devastating for a film like this if Paulson wasn’t already a master of letting the audience in on the joke while retaining the tone of the project. Likewise, newcomer Kiera Allen holds the whole movie together, giving a fully internalized emotional performance and what looked to be a demanding physical performance. Many scenes involve her crawling, hiding and scraping for survival, all the while Allen manages to project vulnerability and determination.
The final act of the movie doesn’t quite live up to the masterful tension that leads us to a somewhat cluttered and rushed denouement, but even as things coast on autopilot, it’s still a fun ride.
“Run” is not always as smart as its characters, and I can’t help but think what another 20 or 30 minutes might have done to fill in some of the logical gaps. But Chaganty understands his ability to construct tension through camera perspective and through thoughtful set-pieces that keep the audience involved in Chloe’s journey. Even if you can’t help but laugh as the plot moves further and further away from believability, the visceral thrills mitigate and sometimes justifies the film’s B-movie charm.
Cassidy Robinson is a former Idaho State University student with a master’s degree in film studies from Orange County’s Chapman University. He is currently working as a media journalist in Los Angeles, California.