Movie Review: Run (2020)

Imagine you need to look something up, something you're worried might be poison, something that's frightening you, and you don’t have a smartphone. There's one computer in the house. It's on the bottom floor but because you don't want your mother knowing you're worried that she's giving you poison (because how crazy does that sound?), the only time you feel safe venturing downstairs is in the middle of the night when she’s fast asleep. 

Oh, and did I mention that you're also disabled? You're a wheelchair user who can't just flee your home, someone with multiple chronic conditions like atrial fibrillation and asthma that make you out of breath just crossing the street. This means that when you need to go down a flight of stairs to conduct this top-secret search, you must use the loud motorized lift to bring you safely down, and somehow do this without waking up your mother. That's when you discover that somehow, for some unknown reason, when you press search, the internet has suddenly been disconnected. 

Moments like these, accessibility issues that able-bodied individuals take completely for granted – including the ability to run, drive, or sneak down the stairs to use the computer – are what make the ironically named “Run” so utterly terrifying. Yet, while merely intense on one level to an able-bodied viewer, watching this as a disabled woman who's learned how to walk again multiple times after multiple spine surgeries and has been stuck in rooms or on high levels when elevators have broken down, is a harrowing experience I can’t fully describe with words. 

Still, intriguingly, although it’s centered on a bright seventeen-year-old disabled girl who’s suddenly worried that her caretaker mother might be doing her more harm than good, as viscerally, urgently thrilling as "Run" feels to a disabled viewer, it's an oddly inspiring picture as well.

With Kiera Allen cast in the role of our heroine Chloe, at last, we're watching an actress who is actually disabled in real life bring our own fears, dreams, trials, and successes to life. In fact, if you are disabled, you might want to watch this for the first time alone, because, even if, like me, you're lucky to have always had a wonderfully loving caretaker, since we so often fall prey to gaslighting by strangers and authority figures outside our circle of trust, “Run” is a far more emotional movie than I assumed it would be going in.

When we watch Chloe get up each morning and swallow a box full of medications (just for the A.M., mind you), we see ourselves. And this goes double when she uses assistive devices like a grabber to try and carefully reach a bottle on the top shelf of her bathroom medicine cabinet without her mother becoming wise. We inherently relate, understanding – even if our disability differs from hers – how frustrating it is to need to have secrets (as all human beings do) in a situation where unfairly for both our caretakers and us, we often have no choice but to depend upon them for every whim. 

“Run” is the sophomore feature from Aneesh Chaganty, who dazzled viewers in 2018 with the release of “Searching,” another thriller that places not only one scene but the entire thrust of the film around an urgent internet search. In "Run," you can tell that Chaganty did his due diligence to make sure that this film would accurately reflect the capabilities and pursuits of its young heroine. And while, par for the course of the genre, it goes a little too far in the stakes-raising, absurdly twisty third act as Chloe's mental chess match with her secretive mother Diane (the brilliant Sarah Paulson) turns more physically threatening, it's still fun to see a genre-requisite Final Girl that resembles us all.

But is her mother evil? Or is Chloe jumping to conclusions because, now that she's so close to graduating high school, and therefore asserting her own independence in college, she's begun to want it so desperately that she needs it right now? Or is there some other perfectly reasonable explanation why there's suddenly a new pill in her P.M. medicine box, one that doesn't match the name of the drug, the color it should be, and was prescribed to her mother? In the case of “Run,” it's the pill that launches a thousand suspicions and puts Chloe on hyper-alert. Diane's even-handed yet nakedly apparent defensiveness about the mysterious medication only makes her daughter more determined than ever to find out what it is and what's really going on.

Essentially, "Run" is a new version of “Searching,” by way of classic psychological domestic noir like “Gaslight,” “My Name is Julia Ross,” and “Suspicion.” And just like in Chaganty’s freshman feature, in “Run,” the question of the search gets us involved, but then he and his “Searching” co-writer Sev Ohanian pull the switch. For, just like in “The Matrix,” now that we've accepted this unusual pill, we must learn more. However, as it turns out, the pill is only the first thread, and we fear for Chloe as the fabric of the only reality she's ever known begins to unravel, with or without her mother's help. 

To a large extent, "Run" plays like gangbusters. Of course, granted, employing a major, exposition-heavy info dump to bring everything awkwardly to a head just in the nick of time feels like a disappointing cheat, even if I do like the “identity” element they incorporate very much.

But with the commitment of our leads – particularly the mix of love and hate we see in Paulson who is one of our most exciting actresses working today – and the decision to ground the film in the question of safety, which is first and foremost in the mind of a disabled individual, makes me far more prone to forgive "Run" its missteps.

Following “Searching,” which focused on a Korean-American father's desperate quest to find his sixteen-year-old daughter by looking through her online history for clues as to her whereabouts, “Run,” marks the second time that writers Chaganty and Ohanian have crafted a thriller with a minority lead. Yes, this time it's a disability, as opposed to a non-caucasian ethnicity but it's still a very welcome change to traditional suspenseful storytelling that in a perfect world, shouldn't be as revolutionary as it is.

Yet, even without reading that much into Chloe as a new kind of heroine in a genre that, in its purest form, usually focuses on women who can run, scream, and get naked before they're cut down in the night by a bloodthirsty killer, “Run” plays like a sophisticated throwback to the gaslight noirs of the 1940s. With terrific, all-encompassing work by Allen and Paulson, “Run” is a loopy, fast-paced, at times cathartic thriller that's only slightly hindered by an unnecessarily over-the-top, M. Night Shyamalan inspired twist, and one that might make you think twice the next time you take a pill or conduct a search. 

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