When You Can’t Run for Your Life
By Noah Gittell
Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation as one of cinema’s greatest masters was earned over decades. His films were popular at the time of their release, but his stature grew even larger in the years after his retirement, as his influence became apparent. Even in 2020, it’s very difficult for example to make a thriller or horror film without owing something to Hitchcock. He invented the cinematic language of suspense. To call a film “Hitchcockian,” however, isn’t necessarily an endorsement. There are plenty of bad films that get the details of suspense right, while lacking the craft or humanity that were the foundation for his greatest works.
“Run” is one of those films. A claustrophobic thriller, it’s the story of Diane and Chloe Sherman, a mother and daughter in the Pacific Northwest who seem to have the perfect relationship, despite some serious obstacles. Chloe was born premature and in the resulting complications became paraplegic. She also suffers from asthma, diabetes, and a number of other maladies. Diane has raised her to be independent, however, and both of them claim to be looking forward to Chloe’s departure for college in the fall. The home-schooled Chloe nervously awaits her acceptance letter from the University of Washington, while Diana admits to fellow parents that she’s excited at the possibility of travel and dating.
All is not as well as it seems. When Diane brings home a new medication for Chloe, it triggers a long-dormant suspicious instinct in the teenager, and the more she investigates the details of the drug, the more her fears grow. Newcomer Kiera Allen gives a committed performance as a young woman slowly coming to grips with fears she could not even have imagined, while director Aneesh Chaganty ratchets up the tension with a pulse-pounding score and smart, rhythmic editing. There are even a few shots Hitchcock would be proud of. Of course, the very idea of dealing with a mortal danger so close to home recalls works like “Dial M for Murder” and “Shadow of a Doubt”.
It’s a promising set-up, but “Run” never graduates from being a Hitchcockian exercise to a three-dimensional film. The characters are woefully underdeveloped, a significant problem in a movie that basically only features two people. It’s especially a problem with Diana, about whom we know nothing but a single, albeit crucial bit of backstory. The lack of characterization leaves the dependable Paulson grasping for details that aren’t there, and her performance in a critical role fails to convince.
Despite its intrigue, the film opts for the shallowest, most contrived option at every turn. As the stakes rise, Chloe finds herself backed into several literal corners from which it feels there is no escape, but it feels more like game theory than drama. Chaganty’s last film, 2018’s “Searching”, turned its story of a father looking online for his missing daughter into a formalist delight by telling the entire story through computer and television screens. “Run” feels similarly limited, especially since its protagonist can’t walk, but there is no sense of play or purpose embedded in it.
The twists and turns aren’t necessarily predictable, but they feel inevitable all the same, probably because of the frequent use of overused cliches. For example, there’s a key scene in which one character finds a box that reveals in news clippings and official documents the true scope of the other character’s villainy. Who keeps news clips of their crimes all in one place for some amateur sleuth to find? Shouldn’t they at least spread them around so it’s a little harder to connect the dots? Plot holes like this don’t matter in every film. Hitchcock had a few of his own, and no one complained. In “Run”, they’re bruises on the surface of a film that is rotten to its core.
<“Run” premieres Friday, November 20 on Hulu.>