Review: ‘Run’ (2020), starring Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen

January 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kiera Allen and Sarah Paulson in “Run” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Hulu)

“Run” (2020)

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty 

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Pasco, Washington, the dramatic thriller “Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A wheelchair-bound teenager finds out that her overprotective mother might not have her best interests at heart.

Culture Audience: “Run” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about mother-daughter relationships that have serious conflicts.

Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen in “Run” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Hulu)

The well-acted and taut thriller “Run” explores a very well-worn concept—a mother and a teenage daughter have a power struggle and become increasingly alienated from each other—and still manages to make it a captivating and enthralling story. Some of the movie’s plot twists and reveals are more predictable than others. However, the filmmakers seem very aware of the specific target audience for this type of movie and deliver the suspenseful moments that this audience expects.

“Run” is the second feature film directed by Aneesh Changaty, who made his feature-film directorial debut with the critically acclaimed 2018 thriller “Searching,” another intriguing movie about a relationship between a single parent and the parent’s only child, who is a teenage daughter. In “Searching,” a widowed father is on a desperate hunt to find his missing teenage daughter. In “Run,” the source of the tension is because the parent of the teenage daughter is clinging too much to her child.

The beginning of “Run” (which was written by Changaty and Sev Ohanian) shows a distraught mother in a hospital. She has just given birth to a premature baby, who is unhealthy enough that doctors are seen trying to resuscitate the child on an operating table. The mother is taken by wheelchair to see her newborn daughter in an incubator, where the baby is breathing through an oxygen tube.

A list of ailments is then listed on screen: arrhythmia (a heart problem); hemochromatosis (a bloodstream problem); asthma (a breathing problem); and paralysis (a muscle problem). And then, the story fast-forwards 17 years later to Pasco, Washington (a city about 226 miles east of Seattle), where single mother Diane Sherman (played by Sarah Paulson) and her 17-year-old daughter Chloe (played by Kiera Allen) live. Diane is the mother who was shown fretting over her sick baby in the movie’s opening scene.

Diane now belongs to a support group for parents of special-needs children. During a group meeting, she expresses some trepidation but also excitement about Chloe going to college and doing things that Diane hasn’t been able to do since Diane became a mother—partying and having fun. Diane mentions that Chloe (who is home-schooled) has applied to several colleges, and they’re waiting to find out which schools have accepted her.

At home in Diane and Chloe’s two-story house, it’s revealed that Chloe’s is a paraplegic in a wheelchair who is on numerous medications for her health problems. Chloe also has a very claustrophobic existence, because her mother controls every aspect of Chloe’s life. Chloe has no friends, and the only person she’s in contact with on a regular basis is her mother, who won’t allow Chloe to have a phone.

There’s no television or radio in the Sherman household. When Diane isn’t home, Chloe is locked inside the house. When Chloe goes outside, her mother always accompanies her. Diane never talks about Chloe’s father.

Diane doesn’t have a job other than taking care of Chloe, and so viewers can presume that Diane lives off of government assistance that’s provided for parents of kids with special needs. One day, Chloe discovers something very strange when she looks in a bag of groceries that her mother left in the kitchen. In the bag is a prescription bottle of pills that Chloe has been taking, but the bottle actually has Diane’s name on the bottle label.

When Chloe mentions this discrepancy to her mother, Diane gives the excuse that what Chloe saw was a receipt with Diane’s name, and the receipt was taped to the bottle. Observant viewers will immediately know that Diane is lying because what Chloe saw was clearly a label on the prescription bottle, not a taped receipt. The green and white pills in the bottle are supposed to be Trigoxin. It’s a fictional drug fabricated for this movie, but Trigoxin and its effects are very similar to the real-life drug Digoxin, which is heart medicine.

About 70% of “Run” has spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review. But it’s enough to say that when Chloe tries to go on the Internet to get more details on Trigoxin, she finds out that the house computer has no Internet service. This sets off a chain of events where Chloe begins to suspect Diane of having secrets and ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Diane becomes increasingly controlling of Chloe.

People who are fans of Paulson’s work in the anthology TV series “American Horror Story” already know how well she can portray characters who seem harmless on the outside but might have very dark and disturbing secrets on the inside. It’s pretty obvious from the trailer for “Run” that Diane is going to end up being the villain of the story. The big mystery is: “What is Diane hiding and what’s going to happen to Chloe?”

Allen makes an impressive feature-film debut as the innocent and sheltered Chloe, who is book smart but definitely naïve compared to other typical 17-year-olds. However, Chloe has to grow up fast when reality starts to sink in that she might not be safe in her own home with her mother. The role of Chloe is physically and emotionally challenging, but Allen is able to convey acting range in all the right places to make a very believable and sympathetic heroine.

“Run” has plenty of mystery and suspense, but there are a few minor inconsistencies in the movie’s plot and characterizations. Chloe is obviously a smart and inquisitive child, so it seems a little strange that it took her so long to find out some of the secrets that she finds out in the movie. Chloe might be someone who spent almost all of her life passively following her mother’s orders, but it’s a little hard to believe that Chloe never thought about snooping around the house while her mother was away, until Chloe began to have suspicions about Diane because of the prescription discrepancy.

For example, even though the movie doesn’t reveal what Diane told Chloe about Chloe’s father, it’s hard to imagine that Chloe wouldn’t be curious enough to find out details about her father that Diane wouldn’t tell her. This curiosity would lead to Chloe looking for information around the house a lot sooner than she does in this story. There’s also another scene in a hospital that’s a tad far-fetched in how hospitals operate, in terms of hospital security.

These flaws don’t take away from the overall plot of “Run.” It’s definitely a movie for fans of “women in peril” stories. However, “Run” doesn’t come across as a generic TV-movie of the week, because the film has some artsy cinematography (by Hillary Spera) and better-than-average performances by the stars of the movie. (Lionsgate was going to release “Run” in cinemas, but then sold the movie to Hulu.) “Run” isn’t a masterpiece, and the movie has some ideas that are recycled from other films, but it’s a satisfying thriller for anyone intrigued by stories about one family member pitted against another.

Hulu premiered “Run” on November 20, 2020.