Why does society have such a fascination with bad moms? Sure, the image of a wholesome, caring matriarch with an apple pie out of the oven and a hug for every problem is very tired. But have we gotten so cynical over the years that we constantly eat up stories about women abusing their children through physical strife or manipulative psychology? Whether it’s the fictional terrors of Norma Bates to the real-life horrors of Dee Dee Blanchard, bad moms on screen are hard to look away from. Like any classic movie villain, the audience wants to look deeper and know more about a relationship as disturbing as one between a mother and child, especially when it’s caused by Munchausen by proxy.
For all the stories that could (and have) been told about mothers imprisoning their children, Run might be the simplest to date. 17-year-old Chloe (Kiera Allen) suffers from paralysis, diabetes, asthma and other life-altering conditions. To keep her as safe as possible, Chloe’s mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) homeschools her, medicates her and even grows vegetables in her backyard to sustain her diet. Chloe desperately wants to go to college and live her own life, but her mother keeps popping up at every turn making sure she’s safe. So much so that Chloe starts getting suspicious of what her mom has been giving her and hasn’t been telling her.
Run is both familiar and new territory for writer Sev Ohanian and writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, the duo that made the excellent found-footage thriller Searching two years ago. This time around, they’ve made an inverse of their last movie’s parental relationship with much less time on a computer screen. To his credit, Chaganty proves himself to be a fine thriller director with excellent use of the movie’s minimal space (about 90 percent of Run takes place in Chloe’s secluded house) and sets up plenty of ticking-clock obstacles for Chloe to overcome. While the movie’s set-up is closer to Hulu’s last Munchausen mystery, The Act, its execution has more in common with Stephen King’s Misery, what with Chloe cautiously darting around her house in a wheelchair or her laborious attempts to crawl around certain areas. While the physical aspect of the movie is sturdy, the script has some baffling elements in it that can make certain scenes feel comical. Scenes of Chloe discovering the actual look and use of her medication feel like attempts by Ohanian and Chaganty to avoid cliches from prior manipulative mom thrillers, but they don’t so much cover their tracks as they do stop the movie dead. They’re small faults, especially in a 90-minute film that flies by, but there’s still the sense that Ohanian and Chaganty could’ve come up with something else to kick Run into something smarter or brought something new to the table.
At least Chaganty is also a fine director of actors, especially ones who bring their A-game to the table. Although the movie also features brief visits from a good-natured delivery man and a doting pharmacist, Run is a two-woman show between Allen and Paulson. Not only do the two have good chemistry between each other but carry their own weight in solo scenes. Allen, in her feature debut, is a lead worthy of rooting for and has fantastic expressions of fear throughout the movie, all while matching charisma and intensity with her intimidating co-star. Paulson has proven her screen presence basically every time she’s been on camera, tackling every possible character thrown her way head-on. Give this woman a wig and a damaged backstory, and she just flies. Unfortunately Paulson isn’t given enough time to really dig her heels into the character and give her any further dimension. Still, she remains friendly in her soft moments and intimidating when the plot starts to unravel.
Run has a solid set-up, a talented cast and capable filmmakers behind the wheel. The problem is the movie’s lack of interesting color and execution. Run feels very by-the-numbers in the current era of bad mom thrillers, missing the intrigue of a true story drama or the twisted imagination of another filmmaker to add some style. If there’s already a story with the shocking start of a mother blinded by her own obsession, why not knock down some more moral barriers and see where the story goes from there?
Run is now streaming on Hulu.