Hulu’s “Run” is thrilling, but there’s something missing

Promotional photo of Run courtesy of Hulu.

Promotional photo of “Run” courtesy of Hulu.

Isabel Hillers

A mother and daughter duo spend almost every waking moment together in Aneesh Chaganty‘s thriller “Run.” Diane (Sarah Paulson) is Chloe‘s (Kiera Allen) mother, sole caretaker and homeschool teacher. The two are codependent on each other, and for good reason because Chloe has a myriad of illnesses that could confound doctors for days. Chloe is wheelchair-bound, has asthma and diabetes — the list goes on. But Chloe is also wildly independent and intelligent awaiting an acceptance letter from the University of Washington. In the opening scene Diane says of Chloe, “She’s the most capable person I know” (Chaganty). Despite her independence, Diane is always at Chloe‘s side, medication in hand. When Chloe wakes up in the morning, there’s a cup of pills on her bedside table, and at night, Diane hands her another.

“Run” was released in November of this year as a Hulu original, meaning that anyone with a Hulu subscription is able to watch it. Services like Hulu have seen quite a few Hollywood movie releases that go straight to subscription services this year because the theaters have been closed. This ultimately helps the experience of watching this movie because it’s good, but not good enough to watch in theaters. “Run” is a film that is creative in terms of acting and cinematography, but still remains lackluster compared to other films and TV in the same suspense genre as well as its unprecedented ending.

The plot is something reminiscent of a true crime documentary. It’s set in the present day in the suburbs of a town near Seattle. All is normal until one day when Chloe finds a prescription she usually takes under Diane’s name hidden in a bag of groceries. When confronted, Diane outright denies the existence of the bottle, but Chloe is more intuitive. Chloe tries investigating herself, but something mysteriously prevents her from doing so. The movie uses several cliches. Overprotective mothers traumatizing their children is a horror movie trope at this point. Diane even has a mysterious basement. But Chaganty successfully developed his characters and directional style to separate his story from others released in recent years, such as “The Quiet Place.”

There is dynamic acting between acclaimed actresses Sarah Paulson and newcomer Kiera Allen, who actually uses a wheelchair in real life. Paulson, who has starred in “Glass” and “American Horror Story,” has always been good at maintaining a quiet, behind the scenes insanity that simmers underneath a smile (“Sarah Paulson”). Such is the case when Chloe first grows suspicious of the drugs Diane feeds her. Paulson maintains a collected, calming tone that is counteracted by her sullied facial expression. Allen, whose film debut is “Run,” adds to the authenticity of the movie as well. Her performance as a teenager is true to a young adult. She dresses and acts like a normal teenager. Paulson and Allen’s dynamic is believable too. Diane is shown giving birth to a premature Chloe in the opening scene, showing their relationship is one rooted in tragedy, but the two still display closeness in the way they spend time together.

One of the most interesting parts of the movie is the way Chloe remains unbothered in a prison-like setting. Chaganty is careful to show why Chloe doesn’t feel trapped. Most of Chloe‘s life is spent at home under supervision from her mother. Her morning routine is shown repeatedly in a rapid succession, demonstrating that she is comfortable with how she lives. Every morning, Chloe gets out of bed, takes her meds, gets dressed, vomits and comes downstairs using her lift. In fact, there is even humor subtly wedged into Chloe’s lines that indicate the comfort she feels in her situation. While in a hurry at a pharmacy to investigate the mystery prescription, Chloe pushes herself to the front of the line, saying, “Sorry everyone, coming through. I’m paralyzed, feel bad for me” (Chaganty). 

Chaganty’s use of cinematography highlights the drama of the story as well. The lighting in the house gets more dull the crazier Diane gets. Subtleties like that set the tone for the events in the movie, and made the more exciting parts scarier. The camera angles in “Run” drive the emotion in the movie as well. The movie is composed almost entirely of close-up shots of the actors’ faces, or whatever activity they’re doing, and wide frames of the setting that make the characters look very small. For example, in the scene where Chloe needs to escape her home, the camera is focused almost entirely on her face until she gets on the roof and the image immediately widens to fit the entire house. There isn’t an in-between, and rightfully so. Watching the actors’ faces up close and then being able to see their actions against a grander area is far more interesting in this movie than full-bodied, still frames that encapsulate the entire scene at once. 

The ending of the movie is its ultimate downfall. It was rushed compared to the careful storytelling used throughout the rest of the movie. The audience was also exposed to very swift, unprecedented character change that left one question in mind at the end: Why? The final scene was hard to make sense of given everything that had just happened. 

The main drama of the movie is too predictable. One could even understand what is happening based on the vague description in this article alone. Maybe the movie is set up to give it away from the beginning, but that takes away from the viewers’ opportunity to speculate the ending themselves, which is often an attribute of the horror movie watching experience.

Even so, viewers can expect some gripping scenes throughout. At one point, Chloe gets stuck in her room and throws herself at the window and onto the roof without the use of her legs. Hearts will start beating faster whenever Diane starts gaining on Chloe. 

Munchausen syndrome, where people enjoy making others feel sick in order to care for them, is a recurring theme in Paulson’s projects this year (Fear, 1). She played Nurse Mildred Ratched in Netflix’s “Ratched,” which came out in September. The suspenseful TV series is set in the 1940s at a psychiatric hospital where the patients are subject to medical experiments. Nurse Ratched is inhumane, seeking to hurt the patients who are under her care. Similar to Diane in “Run,” Paulson’s character in “Ratched” looks kind and perfect on the outside. But underneath her warm demeanor, Nurse Ratched harbors an unimaginable amount of craziness just underneath her warm facade. The movie “Run” and TV show “Ratched” also deal with body horror, although “Run” doesn’t contain the gore “Ratched” does. 

One reviewer from Variety magazine argues that Chaganty artfully uses a drawn-out plot to “get away with maintaining the mystery for longer” (Debruge, 1). Yes, Paulson is skilled in maintaining a poker face even during the most unthinkably gruesome plotlines, and this did create some confusion over Diane’s true intentions. However, and in the interest of not revealing too much about the plot, there are many other elements of the movie that direct the audience towards Diane having a secret. The way she outright denies Chloe seeing the prescription bottle is just the first sign. Her extreme control over Chloe — she can’t have a cell phone and her computer time is monitored — also raises some eyebrows. 

To contrast, another reviewer argues that “Run” has “the thematic depth of a teaspoon, preferring B-movie, semi-camp excitement” (Donaldson, 1). This is a slight exaggeration, because the genius acting Paulson and Allen put together is enough to save the movie on it’s own. The movie itself does try to be something it isn’t, though. This isn’t a psychological horror thriller, but Diane’s Munchausen syndrome does set the movie up like one. If this is the expectation then “Run” really won’t deliver. 

Chaganty’s creative directing style combined with Paulson and Allen’s acting have created a movie that is worth the watch if one is in search of a new thriller, but only because of it’s at-home release.