Aneesh Chaganty’s feature directorial debut, 2018’s Searching, a techno-thriller acquired by Sony/Screen Gems out of Sundance, won major acclaim from both critics and audiences. The film, budgeted for less than $1 million, ended up grossing more than $75 million worldwide and earned star, John Cho, an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actor. That film was uniquely presented through the perspective of laptops, phones and other online devices, bringing a much-needed refresher to the found footage genre. While Chaganty’s sophomore outing, Run — initially destined to hit theaters back in May from Lionsgate, but is now released as a Hulu exclusive — comes with more traditional packaging, the level of craft has only sustained.
Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen) lives with her mother (Sarah Paulson) in a secluded Washington home. As a title card informs us, Chloe also suffers from a string of medical conditions including Arrhythmia, Hemochromatosis, Asthma, Diabetes, and Paralysis. While her mother is over-protective, she doesn’t allow Chloe to have a phone, access to a computer, or even greet the local mailman, she still seems to have a close, meaningful relationship with her daughter. As Chloe begins to question her mothers motives, their relationship starts to crumble.
Run primarily rests on the shoulders of its two lead performers, Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen. Sarah Paulson, one of our great, all-encompassing talents, is riveting here. It takes an experienced actor like Paulson to bare everything out on screen, without giving in to “Mommie Dearest” levels of camp. Paulson’s turn as a troubled mother is more layered than films of this nature tend to allow. The Emmy-winner walks a very thin line of being highly intimidating, while still tempting the audience to care and sympathize with her.
Apart from both films focusing on characters living their worst fears from their homes, Chaganty seems particularly interested in the fear of parenthood. In Searching, John Cho’s over-protective, widowed single father searches for his missing daughter; in Run, Sarah Paulson’s over-protective single mother loves her daughter so much, it brings her from a metaphorical hug to almost literal smothering. While both films are completely on opposite sides of the spectrum, they both exist in the same thematic realm.
Chaganty doesn’t quite orchestrate the twisty, uber-original thriller that was Searching, but his filmmaking craft has only grown. With multiple white-knuckle sequences that harken back to the works of Hitchcock, De Palma and even Rob Reiner — the Misery homages are most definitely present — Chaganty manages to weave staggering levels of tension throughout the brief 89 minute runtime. From the very start, a minimalist, yet thoroughly effective cold open that relies primarily on Paulson’s nuanced, expressive face is a primo example of this film’s confident visual storytelling.
As tension escalates and Chloe feels less safe in her own home, Chaganty and cinematographer Hillary Spera use the spaces of each hallway and the length of each room to chilling results. Aided by the compelling performance from Kiera Allen, Run taps directly into the fears of those with physical disabilities with swift precision. One sequence of Chloe having to escape her locked bedroom from the roof of her home shows not only the dedication of Kiera Allen as a performer, but the ferocity in Chaganty as a filmmaker.
Chaganty’s impeccable handling of tension takes a page from the early works of M. Night Shyamalan. Much of Run‘s mixture of terror and grounded emotional resonance feels directly lifted from The Sixth Sense, but hardly ever derivative. The emotional stakes are really what hold down Run as the third act turns more and more preposterous. Thankfully Chaganty, and co-writer Sev Ohanian, are able to reel in the more flashy bits of the story by keeping the films core relationship front and center.
Director Aneesh Chaganty broadens his directorial scope with a riveting thriller that, despite its PG-13 rating, truly manages to get deep under the skin. This is a good old fashioned thriller that benefits from a fresh new voice in genre filmmaking and also represents the finest film work to date from Sarah Paulson.