Mommy doesn’t know best in mystery-thriller ‘Run’

Kiera Allen (left) and Sarah Paulson appear in a scene from “Run.”

As children, for the first dozen or so years of our lives, our survival relies almost entirely on the love and care we receive from our parents. Legally, a child’s dependency on their parents usually lasts until age 18, but sometimes the parents’ mental and emotional dependence on their children can last a lifetime.

This is the back-and-forth battle on display in “Run,” the newest movie on Hulu from writer-director Aneesh Chaganty who made a big splash in 2018 with his debut film, “Searching.” Although his film’s titles are only one word long, there is plenty to say about the intricate plotting and smartly designed thrills Chaganty delivers in his newest film.

Along with co-writer Sev Ohanian, Chaganty brings us the story of a girl in a wheelchair with many health problems and her overprotective caregiver mother and all the issues that arises from their complicated relationship.

While this sounds more like the set-up of a TV movie on Lifetime or Hallmark, the rug is quickly pulled out from the audience and a nail-biting, heart-pounding thriller is underway with a lot more in common with “Rear Window” than “My Left Foot.” And just as in those films, the character stuck in the wheelchair is a lot smarter and more capable than initially expected.

Despite its smaller budget, minimal cast and fairly straight-forward narrative, “Run” is one of the most thrilling and, at times, terrifying movies released in this already scary year, and it dares to ask the questions about who really needs who in unorthodox parent-child relationships.

Homeschooled teenager Chloe (played by Kiera Allen) has been in a wheelchair her whole life, and suffering with paralysis, heart problems, diabetes and other health conditions has not been easy. Thankfully, she has her single mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson), to take care of her.

But when Chloe finds a bottle of pills she recognizes as hers but prescribed to her mom, she becomes suspicious of Diane’s dismissive excuses. As Chloe begins to investigate, she discovers the pills are not for humans but animals, and a side effect is paralysis in the legs.

As Diane’s methods of keeping her daughter from discovering the truth become more abusive, Chloe uses her smarts and determination to try escaping her mom’s overbearing clutches and find out if her life is really what she was told.

At only 90 minutes long, “Run” wastes no time on superfluous scenes or fluffy filler, using every minute to foreshadow upcoming twists and call back to earlier moments with poetic irony. Even if the basic plot sounds familiar and doesn’t stand out from better predecessors, it’s the small details in Chaganty’s economic filmmaking that makes this watch so fun.

However, the biggest elements responsible for this movie’s success are the main performances by Allen and Paulson. Having to play a mother and daughter who obviously love each other on the surface but also have so many mixed feelings bubbling under the surface results in several tense and unpredictable scenes. They both know the other one knows something is up, but they both have to play ignorant like everything is fine, so you don’t know who will win.

Paulson is no stranger to playing characters who are calm on the outside but psychotic on the inside. From her years on “American Horror Story” to her titular performance in “Ratched” earlier this year, Paulson has mastered looking innocent while having it all figured out, which is unsettling at every turn.

But for my money, the real star of this story is our hero played by Allen. It’s hard to believe this is only her second professional acting job and her first starring role because she looks and feels so comfortable in the spotlight, but what really sets her apart is not being defined by her disability. As someone who uses a wheelchair in real life, Allen defies the stereotypes and shows that someone is much more than their physical ability as Chloe is smart, resourceful and has a moral center that Paulson’s character could never handicap.

From its unique and haunting camerawork to a Bernard Herrmann-inspired musical score, Chaganty has made no secret of paying homage to Hitchcock’s style here. And as with many of Hitch’s great works, the multi-layered and unorthodox family relations are often the best and scariest elements of his thrillers. And with both Allen and Paulson, I think Hitch would be proud.

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