Get Out gets the alien abduction treatment in No Running, a half-hearted stab at social commentary that isn’t nearly as fun or as clever as that premise might suggest. Director Delmar Washington and writer Tucker Morgan have crafted a sci-fi tale that strains for topicality but can’t even muster a single moment of terror, let alone anything resembling trenchancy. Skylan Brooks plays Jaylen, a bright young man with a troubled history who moves to a small coastal town in Oregon. As one of the only Black citizens in the predominantly white area, Jaylen and his family are immediately met with disapproving looks and suspicious glances. He soon finds reprieve from this torment in the form of Amira (Clark Backo), a fellow student nursing her own past traumas. The two begin a tentative romance that is cut short when, during a late-night swim at a Halloween party, Amira vanishes in a flash of blue light emanating from the skies above. Accused of foul play in regards to Amira’s disappearance, Jaylen goes on the lam in an effort to find out the truth, only to discover the town is housing its own fair share of skeletons.
The reason why a film like Get Out works so well is that the villains of the piece —i.e., the white, wealthy upper-class — blanketed their racist tendencies under a veneer of civility and woke liberalism, to the point that they were nearly blind to their own prejudices. The townsfolk of No Running, however, make no such effort; from the film’s opening moments, they are racist shitbirds who wear their hatred like a badge of honor. The local high school literally shows film strips detailing how segregation was a mistake due to the “wildness” of the Black man. If this was their desired setup, Washington and Morgan could certainly have done something clever with this particular wrinkle to the formula, but instead choose to barely even acknowledge it. As a result, Jaylen’s discovery of the town’s dirty dealings plays out more like the ultimate “Duh,” inspiring little in the way of the intended shock or disgust.
The film’s genre trappings, meanwhile, are equally thoughtless, its use of alien abductions feeling especially half-assed, existing only for a heavy-handed ending in which it’s made explicit that the victims of hate crimes and sexual assault often are silenced before their stories can be told, allowing their perpetrators to continue their malicious deeds and essentially passing evil from one generation to the next. All this metaphorizing rings as rather hollow, and the film’s overreliance on loud, abrupt chords to inspire cheap jump scares certainly doesn’t add any nuance to the film, nor does Washington’s love of Dutch angles. Hiring Shane West and Taryn Manning to bring a note of credibility to your 2021 project is…well, it’s a choice, although Brooks at least manages to deliver a winning performance that engenders more sympathy than the film around him earns. Still, there’s no saving this stinker. No Running? More like no brains. [Mic drop.]
Published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 5.