I genuinely wish I liked this one more. There have been plenty of films and television outings documenting the very real phenomenon of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. It’s a mental health condition in which a caregiver (usually a parent) makes up or causes an illness in a person under his or her care, often a child, but also possibly an elderly adult or a person who has a disability. And for a portion of the new film Run, we suspect that the seemingly loving single mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) isn’t quite being honest with her daughter Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen) about her many illnesses from birth that have left her confined to a wheelchair and forced to take countless medications on a daily basis.
But Diane seems so confident in her daughter’s determination and intelligence that she’s eagerly awaiting the quickly approaching day when Chloe goes off to college, leaving mom in the position for the first time in 18 years where she doesn’t have someone to take care of. Diane certainly doesn’t keep Chloe locked up; they go out together to see movies or do any number of things that mothers and daughters might do. In real life, Allen does use a wheelchair, and the dexterity with which she operates it is impressive and key to making the film work at all. But when there’s a change to one of her medications, Chloe becomes suspicious for the first time in her life that something isn’t quite adding up. The more she investigates, the more it appears that her mother may be worsening, rather than improving, Chloe’s condition.
Run comes from director Aneesh Chaganty, who co-wrote the film with Sev Ohanian (the pair did the terrific 2018 computer-screen thriller Searching not long ago), and if there’s connective tissue between the two films, it’s the disconnect we often have regarding the bond between a parent and child that we think is strong and unbreakable. In reality, we discover there are things about this person we barely understand. Both films handle unconventional thrillers in really interesting and innovative ways, and there are sequences in Run where the tension is solely based on how fast and able Chloe can be in her wheelchair, underscoring the idea that her being in a chair is simply a gimmick or a device to gain sympathy for her plight. Chloe is no victim in this story; she’s straight-up heroic, and Allen is fantastic as this young woman who dreams of college and is always looking for ways to be more self-sufficient. On that level, the film is incredibly inspiring.
Another bonus perk of Run is an all-too-brief appearance of Chicago actor Pat Healy, who plays a postal worker who has to make the tough decision between helping Chloe and believing Diane’s pleas to help her get her daughter back to the house after an attempted escape. It’s a tough scene to pull off, but Healy and Paulson have a terrific exchange before Healy opts to believe Chloe, for which he pays a stiff price.
For as many elements of the film as I enjoyed, the entire work didn’t land with me quite in the right way. The whole affair made me feel uneasy and exploitative. I have no issues with watching films featuring kids in peril (I relish such storylines, actually), but perhaps it’s the combination of having seen so many similar plots in recent years (some done in a more dramatic context, granted) and being a bit tired of watching the very gifted Paulson play yet another unhinged character that left me ambivalent to Run. It’s far from a terrible movie, but I’m not sure what the takeaway is meant to be. There are some talented people involved in pulling this together, but it never quite gelled for me the way it needed to in order to be effective.
The film is now streaming on Hulu.
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