With the pitch-black theater and lack of rescuing distractions, horror movies especially benefit from the big-screen experience. The audience gets a chance to steep in their fear, feeling just as trapped as the characters they’re viewing. Originally slated for a Mother’s Day theatrical release, Run capitalizes on having its premiere on Hulu in one way: you can now hyperventilate in the privacy of your own home while watching it. You can also check your heart rate app and confirm that yes, this psychological thriller had indeed put you in quantifiable panic mode. Run actively confronts a core biological truth — that mothers are evolutionarily designed to protect their offspring, not harm them — and it evokes an appropriately primal reaction.
That elevated heart rate is especially fitting given that the word “arrhythmia” and its definition appear in the first five minutes of Run. “Hemochromatosis,” “asthma,” “diabetes,” and “paralysis” follow in succession, along with helpful medical explanations for those who stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy when Izzie had sex with Denny’s ghost. Teenaged Chloe Sherman (Kiera Allen, in a should-be-breakout role) begins her day by hoisting herself into her wheelchair, spitting phlegm into a toilet, massaging a prescription cream into angry skin, and swallowing endless pills. She is homeschooled by her devoted mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson), and the two live an isolated but charming life in rural Washington. They display an enviable closeness without the usual friction that accompanies mother-daughter interactions in late adolescence, even while Chloe eagerly awaits her acceptance letter from the University of Washington for college next year.
However, idealized relationships contain little dramatic tension — and Run is nothing if not tense. Soon Chloe discovers that her beloved mom may not be acting with her daughter’s best interests at heart. The signature protective instinct grows sinister, with Chloe’s condition leaving her at her mother’s mercy.
For his sophomore film after 2018’s Searching, writer-director Aneesh Chaganty returns to the theme of familial relationships and what happens when a parent’s love mutates into something dangerous. Collaborating again with Sev Ohanian on the screenplay, Chaganty’s latest isn’t as formally playful as their last film, but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in its effectiveness. Even if you’ve seen Hulu’s The Act series or know other stories of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, Run is still an absolute nightmare about the cruelty of people who are supposed to be caregivers. It’s a lean 90 minutes, and you want the experience to be over in the best of ways: it’s almost too intense at points, and you need to take a breath.
Chaganty deserves credit for keeping the film and its audience so tightly wound, but the leads are both wonders. Paulson is well cast, displaying the broad range that has made her a favorite of Ryan Murphy and fans alike, though Run feels far more grounded than most Murphy fare. We trust every minute of her performance here, even as we don’t want to believe what her character is capable of. Meanwhile, this is Allen’s feature film debut, and she rises to a role that is both physically and emotionally demanding. Allen is in a wheelchair off-screen as well, and Chloe is a strong, resourceful heroine who challenges how people with disabilities are often depicted on screen. Chloe’s state and seeming inability to flee put her in even more danger than the average horror movie protagonist, but Run avoids exploitation in its depiction of her plight.
The final moments of Run feel slightly out of step with the bulk of the film, but they don’t undercut how terrifying and satisfying the thriller is overall. Chaganty’s movie does exactly what it intends to, drawing the audience in and ensuring that they care deeply about Chloe. Your pounding heart might tell you to try to escape for the sake of your health, but there’s no way you’ll stop watching, even if you technically could end the anxiety by simply pressing a button.
“Run” is streaming Friday on Hulu.