Run Review – Representation in an Impressive Thriller

Aneesh Chaganty made a solid footprint in Hollywood in 2018 with his tense, computer screen-based thriller Searching, starring John Cho as a father looking for his missing daughter. It used the kind of filmmaking started with Unfriended and made most famous in 2020 with Host, where the broad horror stories unfold through laptops and phone calls and spliced together with video calls. Chaganty was able to craft the kind of intense psychological thriller one could expect from David Fincher or Denis Villenueve but used modern technology to suck viewers into a more modern experience we could relate to. It’s a brilliant film that put Chaganty on the map beyond his acclaimed Google commercials. Now he brings us Run, another psychological thriller but with a much more sinister and clinical sensibility, traditionally filmed for a change.

Run stars newcomer Keira Allen as teenager Chloe who, after being born premature, is paralysed from the waist down, afflicted with diabetes, arrythmia and hemochromatosis, and is home-schooled by her mother Diane (Sarah Paulson). Diane is Chloe’s only source of care and humanity in her life, but Chloe is getting older, wanting to go to university, and live a life of her own. As Chloe starts to think more about the world outside, she begins to suspect that her mother is not who she appears to be, and could be someone far more sinister than can be imagined.

The first thing I thought when watching how well this film came together was the three films from M. Night Shyamalan that put him on the map. How perfectly Aneesh Chaganty frames his shots and uses lighting choices with cinematographer Hillary Fyffe Spera, and the chilling and constant Herrmann-esque score from Torin Borrowdale, it is the style of exacting direction that made Shyamalan a phenomenon in the early 2000s. Important information is delivered front-and-centre, the camera’s always on a locked-down tripod or moves with gradual dollies, rack focuses emphasise the information and locks you into a character’s perspective, and the perfect editing from Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, this was utterly brilliant to behold. Shyamalan had these same sensibilities when he started as a director, leading to many in the industry to declare him the next Spielberg, a title Shyamalan himself would say he is unworthy of. Wherever his career goes next, Chaganty, purely on style, has proven to me at least to be the next great thriller director in line with Jordan Peele and Leigh Whannell.

But what about the story? Is this style over substance? Nope.

Run is packed with themes of paranoia, the lengths a mother will go to to protect her child, the cycle of abuse, and obsession, ultimately creating the kind of meaningful thriller that works in tandem with its delicious stylistic appearance. Basically, the kind of film which I crave every year. Keira Allen, an actress who actually uses a wheelchair for mobility in life, delivers a knock-out performance, brimming with pain, exhaustion, wit, charm, and the kind of energy that keeps us fully engaged in the twists and turns. She is our way in, we never learn anything ahead of her, and through this we care so much about every obstacle she faces, we feel each small movement, and we wince at every ounce of pain she suffers. It is a perfect combination of a dedicated performance and a director who knows what he’s doing with his actors.

Sarah Paulson, to no less extent, is just as thrilling, but has to play opposite to Allen. Chloe is a rather timid and guarded person, defined by what her mother has taught her, so naturally Diane is the more dominating figure. Paulson plays this so well, the kind of mother who obviously cares but seems to love conditionally. Her casting is so perfect because Diane needs to be lovely and generous on the surface but every scene with her lets us in to that hint of something else lurking underneath. Paulson is a lovely person by all accounts, yet can so quickly and easily unleash that darkness with simple postures or the most wild outbursts. She knows this character inside and out and plays each required scene with the right kind of energy, as wild as that can get.

As for drawbacks, there are a few. No film is perfect. Run is tight and clean in its edit, but there are a few hints towards backstories that only get a brief image and nothing more. We’re not asking for everything to be explained, but somethings hint at an explanation that never comes. In Chloe’s investigation as to who her mother really is, there are a few leaps in logic to be made in order to get the necessary information to us as quick as possible. The typical newspaper clippings that just happen to be aligned in the right order, or background characters needing to be completely oblivious to the obvious dangers around them, it’s all quite stereotypical. If these things were done more realistic, it wouldn’t be as fun, but it also can make the film feel like a massive flight of fantasy, a non-stop thrill-ride that could have maybe made one or two stops.

Run clocks in at a refreshing 89 minutes, but you can be left feeling like more could have been developed with the themes of cyclical abuse or blind obsession. Maybe these problems are rendered invisible through multiple viewings, which I am not opposed to at all. Run is a fantastic and delightfully dark thriller that keeps you on your toenails all the way from start to finish. The main performances are fantastic, the symbiosis of camerawork, score, and editing left me feeling exuberant, and I am waiting on pins and needles for whatever Aneesh Chaganty can come up with next. Run right out and see Run!

Director: Aneesh Chaganty

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Sara Sohn

Writers: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian

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