Sarah Paulson is outstanding as usual in Aneesh Chaganty’s well-crafted suspense thriller that pits an overprotective parent against her suspicious teen.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2020 Nightstream festival)
That parental love can be toxic and suffocating is not a daring new insight. All of us either have or know someone who has a story about a well-meaning but overbearing parent who interferes in a romantic relationship, or doesn’t know when to butt out of a personal situation, or just can’t handle that fact that children grow up to have their own separate lives. When a person bases their entire identity around being a parent, the shock at discovering that their children don’t need them as much as they used to can be difficult to process. Rarely, however, do they take it as far as Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) in Aneesh Chaganty’s Run, set to premiere on Hulu November 20th, with a sneak preview at Nightstream.
Diane is a single mother in Washington State, caring for her teenage daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen). Premature at birth, Chloe must use a wheelchair, and has a host of medical issues, including asthma and diabetes. Chloe is largely self-sufficient, but still needs Diane to prepare her meals, and supply her with her daily medications. They seem to live a peaceful, loving existence without the usual tension present in a lot of mother-teenage daughter relationships.
Though Diane insists in a parenting group that she’s fine with (even looking forward to) Chloe leaving home to go to college, at home her encouragement about it sounds a little hollow, as does her repeated insistence that Chloe, a smart, ambitious student, just hasn’t received any acceptance letters yet. You can probably guess what’s really happening with those letters, and that’s okay, because Run does not hold the audience in suspense as to who the villain is here. Once Diane starts plying Chloe with a mysterious new medication without explaining (a) what it is, or (b) what it’s for, the suspense comes in Chloe gathering enough clues to understand how much danger she’s in. The real meat of the plot gets underway in less than ten minutes, and stays on track for a lean, perfectly edited ninety minutes.
The real meat of the plot gets underway in less than ten minutes, and stays on track for a lean, perfectly edited ninety minutes.
Though it occasionally falls back on some tried and true suspense thriller cliches (like the villain conveniently keeping all the newspaper clippings and documents proving their misdeeds in a single file), Run still feels largely fresh. Paulson serves up toxic cocktails of medication to her child with a maternal “I know what’s best for you” smile, and is effectively unsettling from beginning to end. She isn’t portrayed as a hulking monster, like Annie Wilkes in Misery, but rather like the real-life women who end up accused of gaslighting and even poisoning their children, sometimes to death, because being a caregiver allows them some sense of a purpose. It used to be called Munchausen by proxy, and if you’re feeling in too good of a mood, you can read about it here.
Most of the entertainment in Run comes from Chloe coming up with increasingly clever ways to gather information while escaping Diane’s notice. You wouldn’t think that her calling a stranger and asking him to Google something for her would be exciting, but it genuinely works, thanks largely to newcomer Allen, whose growing confusion and panic is really what keeps things moving along. Allen also makes you believe the skewed sense of loyalty Chloe feels for Diane, her jailer, but also her caregiver, and the only parent she’s ever known. Though it could have easily turned into something campy and lurid, Run rises above that, with an unexpected touch of tragedy, particularly at the end. What Diane does is terrible, but she probably didn’t mean to hurt her daughter. She just loves her so much.
Run premieres on Hulu November 20th.