Aneesh Chaganty’s previous film, Searching, was one of my favorite films of 2018. While I am the world’s biggest sucker for webcam genre movies, it transcended the genre through the sheer skill of Chaganty’s storytelling. He knew exactly what information to give you visually and when to do it, and kept you guessing the entire time through exhilarating twists and turns. He brings the same skill and talent to his latest film, Run, another Hitchcock/De Palma inspired nutty thriller that will once again rank among my favorite films of the year.
Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a teenager confined to a wheelchair with a whole host of hindering illnesses, homeschooled by her mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) and has minimal contact with the outside world at best. She begins to see that some of her mother’s behavior doesn’t add up – Why did a prescription for Chloe have Diane’s name on it? Why does Diane always seem to intercept the mail before Chloe can see it? – and suspects that Diane is keeping a terrible secret from her.
As much as I loved Searching, a part of me was worried he might be trapped into only doing webcam films, and while I’m sure I would have enjoyed that, I did want to see what he could do with a more traditionally made film. I’m now convinced Chaganty can do whatever type of film he wants. He retains his gift of giving you the necessary information visually, and holds you in a vice grip of tension and thrill for a brisk 90 minutes. This film wastes no time. It locks you into a tense premise and just builds for an exhilarating hour and a half. Chaganty and his cinematographer Hillary Spera keep scenes rolling with brisk, tactful camera movements and threatening shadow lighting. The script by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian knows how to keep you guessing, Chaganty starts the fakeouts early. I particularly enjoyed how an early scene seems to begin in a group for parents grieving dead children only to reveal – in one long take – that it’s actually a PTA meeting where parents are sad about their kids going to college. Chaganty sets the tone of distrust right there. He achieves a feat in making sure you never feel that Chloe is safe no matter the circumstances for the entire film. You’ll see what I mean.
Kiera Allen is a great discovery here as Chloe. She’s only acting off somebody else for half the film, and acting purely off of expression without overdoing it is a hard balancing act and not nearly as easy as it looks. She gives you all the emotional information you need to figure things out at the same time she does. She’s so convincing at selling these extreme emotions and letting you into her character’s problem solving. You can feel the gears turning in her head as she’s figuring things out. I know it sounds like I’m praising a pitcher for throwing a strike, but trust me when I say Allen is doing some excellent work here. It is also wonderful to see a character in a wheelchair actually played by somebody who uses a wheelchair. So rarely are disabled characters played by disabled people. Regardless of how you feel about the film, you can only feel happy about Kiera Allen. Bravo to her and the filmmakers for doing this.
Sarah Paulson has always been adept at combining calculative manipulation and fractured psyches, and it’s a delight to watch her really get nutty with it in the latter half of the film. She and Allen have terrific chemistry of distrust. They’re both deceiving each other and each is so terrific at lying to the most important person in their life. Also, an appearance from Pat Healy is welcome in any film in my book.
Chaganty is a filmmaker I’m very excited to see more from. He combines the tension and smarts of a Hitchcock thriller, the technique and camp of De Palma, and the storytelling ability of Shyamalan. He’s just a damn good filmmaker and storyteller who knows what he’s doing. I had a feeling of what one of the big twists would be pretty early on, but that didn’t hinder the joy of the journey at all. Searching was a blast to watch in theaters with an audience, and I of course wish I could have seen Run with an audience and hear the gasps of them at the nutty turns Run takes. Chaganty, no matter how minimal the scope of the film, demands to be seen on the largest cinematic format you can find. I look forward to hopefully seeing the next Chaganty film in theaters one day.