Let’s say you grew up with a number of diagnosed ailments and disabilities, ranging from arrhythmia and hemochromatosis to partial paralysis. You’re in wheelchair and have a virtual pharmacy’s worth of pills you need to take. Luckily, your mom stays on top of all of your meds and treatments and daily shots, as well as homeschooling you. You’re counting the days until that acceptance letter from nearby Washington State, or possibly one of your safety colleges, shows up at your door; Mom says she’ll let you open it as soon as the mailman brings it. You guys are pretty close. What can take the place of a mother’s love for her child?
Except one day, after Mom returns home from grabbing groceries, you notice something a little … strange in the bag. There’s a prescription bottle with her name on it. Normally, your meds have your name on the bottle. It’s just the receipt they tape on the side, she says, shrugging it off. Not a big deal. Still, that seems a little odd. Maybe you start investigating some more, you notice a few other pill bottles have your name taped over Mom’s name, and the internet inconveniently goes out when you try to research these unfamiliar-looking pills. Maybe you’re not as sick as you’ve been led to believe. Maybe your sweet, loving caretaker has been keeping secrets from you that she will do almost anything to protect ….
This is the thriller territory where Run stakes its claim, located at the midpoint of horror films featuring a potential victim with disabilities at its center — think Wait After Dark, or Hush — and dimestore maternity-run-amuck pulp. (The movie begins streaming on Hulu on November 20th; the fact that they did not hold it until Mother’s Day 2021 feels like egregious marketing.) It immediately sets up that 17-year-old Chloe Sherman, played by real-life wheelchair user Kiera Allen, is a genius-level problem-solver, the kind of protagonist who’ll know how to fashion an impromptu escape route involving a closed window, a soldering iron and a mouthful of water. And it takes you less than 10 seconds of seeing her nurturing ma Diane as someone who’s clearly a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs beneath her saintly facade, which is one of the many benefits of casting Sarah Paulson in this kind of role. As anyone who’s seen Paulson in anything will tell you, she’s an extraordinary actor whose talents seem boundless. And as anyone who’s watched a season of American Horror Story or many of her other Ryan Murphy collaborations can testify, she is to this style of ripened no-more-wire-hangers camp what baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan was to no-hitter games.
But it’s also one Run‘s many setbacks in terms of keeping you invested in the duo’s adventures of barren Munchausen syndrome. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that Diane has put her thumb on the scale regarding Chloe’s conditions, and has a vested interest in her staying sick. This is obvious from the get-go. Paulson’s ability to let you see a Totenkopf lurking behind every smile and make her good-mother routine feel laced with toxic amounts of irony right away only confirms what we eventually find out. It’s all over but the shouting — and the jump-scare syringe-plunging and the sight of a young woman dragging herself to safety several times over — before it’s barely begun. The tension only lies in the specifics, and given that this is the type of movie that doles out its suspense rather sparingly, it’s hard not to feel a sense of deflation set in before the first in a series of climactic set pieces start kicking in. Forget the title; the film barely works itself up into a half-hearted trot. It isn’t even howl-worthy in its campiness or badness, with one notable exception: You’ll wish you saw this in a theater will be because its schlock treatment of a coda deserves a crowd’s derisive laughter instead of just yours alone in your living room. (Let’s just say the make-up department must have been trolling the Halloween aisles of chain drug stores.)
Paulson will be fine after this misstep. Ditto Allen, who could not be a more appealing lead or a resourceful damsel-in-distress. The only person who may end up taking a hit is director/co-writer Aneesh Chaganty, who’s previous film — the 2018 internet mystery Searching, featuring John Cho using Microsoft Office and social media to crack the case of his missing daughter — displayed a formal wit, an experimental verve and a cleverness that transcended its computer-screen–POV gimmick of a premise. All of that’s AWOL in Run. What’s left is nothing but stumbling.