Run, Don't Walk, to See Run
During the condensed 89 minutes of Run, I erupted in a shrill, uncontrollable scream of “RUN!!” at least three times, and probably closer to six if you count “RUN RUN RUN RUN” as four separate instances. That is to say, director Aneesh Chaganty is good at his job. Graduating from a series of screens in his 2018 debut Searching to almost entirely a single set, Chaganty shows off an aptitude for meticulous framing and composition, along with a nearly unparalleled ability for tightening the screws of tension on both his characters and his audience. Don’t get me wrong, Run is a lot of things: a nuanced portrait of surrogate family and disability; an acting showcase for an established veteran beside a budding superstar (if there’s any justice in Hollywood); and the millionth exhibit in the argument for a stunt category at the Oscars. But above all, it’s a thrilling masterclass in taut, minimalist filmmaking.
Operating as meta-body horror, Run is about being trapped: inside your own body, your own home, and a world that isn’t made for you. Kiera Allen, the 22-year-old actress who plays Chloe in her feature debut, is the first wheelchair-user to star in a major thriller in over seven decades. With repeated close-ups and a series of extended one-person sequences, the film rests on her shoulders, and the sudden star is more than up to the task. She alternates between a manic energy (through voice modulation and rat-a-tat physical movements) and a terrifying stillness, which together convey the gripping fear that comes with the inability to escape. She works with and against Sarah Paulson (playing Chloe’s mother, Diane), the two actresses always working hand-in-hand, even when their characters are anything but.
Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian are wizards at narrative economy, quickly establishing stakes with a series of rapid opening scenes. Run waltzes onto the screen with an immediate rhythm, visually depicting the small changes in every-day life for a person with disabilities like Chloe, while also settling into an immediately recognizable mother-daughter relationship. The script sets up small hints of the terror to come early on - tiny seeds of doubt and mystery - but Chaganty’s direction doesn’t linger on any one long enough to give anything away. The narrative loops around one too many times near the end, but it manages to disentangle itself for a thrilling finale, one of the numerous heart-bursting set pieces throughout the film.
And then there’s that set piece. You’ll know it when you see it, but a combination of Allen and her stunt double took my breath away, leaving me somehow unable to breathe and yet still screaming at my television. Editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick deserve credit for the visual and narrative clarity necessary for such jaw-clenching sequences, and DP Hillary Fyffe Spera turns the most prosaic locations into looming, nightmare-ish vistas. If movie theaters were open, I’d be imploring you to run, not walk, to the next screening of Run.