Run could have been a bit of delightful trash but is instead a disaster of mismanaged tone.
Let’s be very clear about one thing, just so there’s no confusion going forward: Run, the new thriller from the team behind 2018’s technology-driven Searching — writer-director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian — is a stupid movie. That’s not an implicit criticism, as stupid can be immensely fun when executed properly. Unfortunately, Chaganty handles the material with a solemnity and gravitas often reserved for Holocaust dramas — that is, until he suddenly doesn’t. It’s precisely this lack of tonal consistency that renders Run largely ineffectual and wholly infuriating. Things start off promisingly enough, with the reliable Sarah Paulson playing mother to a college-bound daughter (Kiera Allen) suffering from a litany of medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes, and paraplegia. (It’s worth noting that Allen makes her feature film debut as daughter Chloe, and it’s the first time since 1948 that a wheelchair user has starred in a mainstream thriller — credit where credit is due.)
Mom seems to be acting strangely as of late, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Chloe. Could it be that she is simply scared to let go of the daughter to whom she has devoted the past 18 years of her life? Or is something more insidious and sinister lurking beneath her caring facade? Chaganty does an admirable job of teasing audience members in the early going, offering up just enough in the way of hints and clues to keep viewers engaged. He also understands that the inherent limitations of his wheelchair-bound protagonist can provide ample ammunition for executing his thriller tropes, where something as simple as a late-night Google search or the retrieval of a pill bottle from the top shelf of a medicine cabinet can prove to be a seemingly insurmountable task. And that’s before Chloe attempts to escape from a second-story window. It’s at the 50-minute mark, though, that Run completely jumps the shark, with one of its characters engaging in an act from which the film never recovers — an act which may have indeed worked had the film demonstrated any playfulness in its early going. Instead, from this point, it’s one ludicrous plot twist after another, the majority of which are clumsily revealed in what we’ll affectionately refer to as Chekhov’s Basement.
The problem, then, is quite simple: Chaganty seems to earnestly believe he is making a serious thriller, refusing to acknowledge the vein of absurdity that runs through the entire thing. In some cinematic case studies, such an approach can work, if only on an ironic level, a la 2006’s unintentionally campy The Wicker Man remake. But every once in a while, Chaganty appears to be in on the joke, nowhere more so than in the film’s climactic hospital-set showdown. There are four subsequent shots in this act involving an escalator, an out-of-order warning, directions toward a ramp, and a sign for Washington State University that will leave more than a few viewers in stitches. It’s impossible to believe that Chaganty could be so ignorant of such inanity; he has to understand the inherent silliness in order to produce something so breathtakingly dumb. The final scene is likewise a howler, and it hints at what Run could have been had Chaganty not suddenly decided to try to have it both ways. Admittedly, the director’s deficiencies aren’t helped by Paulson’s presence, her performance calibrated to Mommie Dearest-levels of hysteria, even in the film’s early scenes. And the film’s playful and jaunty score, courtesy of Torin Borrowdale, is also deeply at odds with the distinctly somber tone that dominates most of the film’s brief 90-minute runtime.
Chaganty isn’t a terrible director, and he certainly knows how to compose and frame a shot. He isn’t shy to rely on a few visual go-tos as mood enliveners, such as his penchant here for placing characters within visual boxes that slowly grow smaller and more claustrophobic as the camera pushes in to highlight their suspicions and building panic. But then he proceeds to repeat this effect ad nauseam, hinting at a larger and more debilitating concern: specifically, that Chaganty clearly has a limited number of tricks in his directorial bag, and worse, after only two films he seems to have already exhausted them. Run is ultimately nothing more than trash that doesn’t know it’s trash, Chaganty and thus the film itself sorely lacking in any self-awareness. It’s hard to think of anything more pathetic.
You can currently stream Annesh Chaganty’s Run on Hulu.