Writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and his writing partner Sev Ohanian made an auspicious feature film debut with their 2018 thriller Searching, which took place entirely on a computer screen. Their follow-up, Run, is more conventional, but demonstrates their skill at making this type of genre film.
The film starts with Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) giving birth prematurely to a baby girl, Chloe. Seventeen or so years later, Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen) remains in a wheelchair and has a host of medical issues that require numerous pills Diane administers to her daily. Chloe is on the verge of getting accepted to college, an opportunity both she and Diane seem to relish.
Things start to unravel when Chloe discovers a prescription she takes in a bottle with Diane’s name on it. Slowly but surely, she starts to suspect her mom of actively trying to hurt her instead of help her. The more threads she pulls, the deeper the mystery gets, and Diane always seems to be lurking in the background.
The story shines yet another light on the odd phenomenon of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a medical disorder in which a caretaker acts as if the person he or she is caring for has an illness when that person is not actually sick. The idea has seen an uptick in recent years, showing up in the Hulu series The Act, the movie Phantom Thread, and the HBO series Sharp Objects, among others.
The disorder already has a sheen of horror to it, and Chaganty and Ohanian lean into that aspect hard. They treat Diane like a proper movie villain, having her appear in shadows or in position to constantly thwart Chloe’s attempts at discovery. At the same time, it’s hard to fully demonize Diane as her motivations for keeping Chloe sick are unclear for much of the film.
The filmmakers keep the tension high even while playing by clichéd rules of the thriller/horror genre. It’s ratcheted up even more because Chloe can’t use her legs, a fact which makes it harder for her to escape certain situations. Allen plays those scenes and others for all they’re worth, showing off skills that make it hard to believe this is her first movie.
As evidenced by her repeat roles in American Horror Story, in Netflix’s Ratched, and other roles, Paulson has no problem being bad. One could almost argue that she’s gotten pigeonholed into evil roles, and that it’s difficult to see her as anything else, at least recently. She certainly goes for the gusto in this role; no one gets hysterical like Sarah Paulson.
While utterly predictable, Run keeps its head above water thanks to some nimble filmmaking and a great debut performance by Allen. After this latest use of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, though, it might be time to retire that particular storytelling device.
Run debuts exclusively on Hulu on November 20.