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Run [Video Review]

Dial M for Munchausen: Chaganty Beams the Gaslight in Gratifying Sophomore Film

Aneesh Chaganty Run ReviewThe sanctity of motherhood becomes a questionable axiomatic in Run, the sophomore film from director Aneesh Chaganty, who’s 2018 debut Searching (read review) was a novel genre effort utilizing only computer screens and smart phones. His latest, reuniting him with scribe Sev Ohanian and composer Torin Borrowdale, plays out within more customary parameters, though gets by almost entirely on the energies of its two lead actresses, including a beautifully villainous Sarah Paulson and newcomer Kiera Allen.

For those attuned to humankind’s depravities, it will be immediately clear what the thrust of the narrative is going to be, but despite some significant familiarities of similar films manages to introduce its own creepy reveals and anxiety inducing dread.

After giving birth prematurely, Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) throws herself into devoting her life towards caring for daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen). A warm and picture-perfect reality has grown from homeschooling the child and growing their own food in their expansive backyard in a Seattle suburb, even though this scenario has made them a bit co-dependent. But, after all, the wheelchair bound Chloe suffers from arrythmia, hemochromatosis, asthma, diabetes, and paralysis. So, when her daughter expresses her need to attend college, desperately looking for news in the daily mail (Pat Healy as a friendly postman) for an admission letter, Diane’s cool veneer begins to waver. Weirdness about the mail paired with a prescription for Chloe’s medication bearing Diane’s name causes suspicion. Since she was never allowed access to a smartphone, Chloe tries to sneak into the first floor family room at night to peruse the internet without Diane’s watchful eye only to find the internet is down, and miraculously won’t be up and running for a month. Desperate to lay her suspicions to rest, Chloe goes to more extreme lengths for answers and discovers Diane has been harboring quite a few secrets.

Paulson is an incredibly talented performer whose mainstream reputation has been straightjacketed into her considerable work with Ryan Murphy, who has woven the performer some of her finest roles in his television output (Marcia Clark in American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, for instance) along with some of her most ill-fitting (Ratched, for another instance). Beyond these caveats with Murphy parallels, it’s usually exciting to see her unleashed onscreen, most often in supporting roles from notable productions (12 Years a Slave; Carol; The Post). Chaganty has given her a sinewy bit of saccharine sweet villainy to unfurl as Diane Sherman, a beautiful face and eloquent sentiment forming a veneer for the manipulative, self-serving harridan she is, a cousin to those domineering villains who landed accolades for women like Bette Davis or Kathy Bates (in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Misery, respectively). But Run is also something of a re-tooled take on Gaslight, though Diane’s needs are an endless well in her symbiotic addiction to mothering a sickly child. But Kiera Allen is not a passive waif a la Ingrid Bergman, and her vulnerabilities have been orchestrated as physical manifestations thanks to the interventions of mother.

If Diane gets little characterization other than a monstrous mom in love with the attention mothering affords her, then this Munchausen syndrome by proxy tale prizes instead the resiliency of its victim, and as thus doesn’t get into the significant weirdness of explorations like the 2017 doc Mommy Dead and Dearest or the 2019 series The Act it inspired.

Lensed by Hillary Spera (The Craft: Legacy – read review), nearly all of the action takes place within the confines of the Sherman home, but it’s the physicality of Allen’s performance which tends to add dimension. A fantastic Bernard Herrmann inspired score channels the Hitchcockian elements (maybe even more of Brian De Palma considering this is the realm of homage) and it’s got one helluva pulpy but enjoyable twist ending to confirm Chaganty as an exciting torchbearer of weird, adult genre cinema for our increasingly twisted times.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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