'Run' Review: Sarah Paulson And Kiera Allen Are Equally Strong In Aneesh Chaganty's Relentless Thriller

Sarah Paulson gives new meaning to the overprotective mother in Run, the latest from Searching director Aneesh Chaganty. In a thriller that seems at least partially inspired by the true story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, Paulson plays Diane, a smothery mom from hell – a woman who will stop at nothing to keep her daughter from the outside world. That daughter is Chloe (Kiera Allen), a 17-year-old wheelchair user who suffers from a dictionary's worth of ailments. Or so she's been told. But Chloe has grown restless in her teen years, and she longs to finally leave home for college. Surely dear old mom can understand that, right?

Chaganty, who took what could've been easily dismissed as a gimmick with Searching (it was another screen movie, where all the action was confined to computer screens and iPhones) and worked it into something magical, gets a lot of mileage here from building up tension. Because make no mistake: whatever its flaws, Run is tense as hell. It's relentless in the way it cranks up the anxiety as the truth of the situation becomes more clear. It's an old cliche to say a film will have you on the edge of your seat these days, but don't be surprised if you find yourself nervously leaning towards the screen as all of this goes down.

The relationship between Chloe and Diane seems warm at first, but Chloe is growing more and more suspicious of mom's actions the older she gets. Why, exactly? This is one of the things that Run never fully articulates. Chloe is suddenly suspicious of her mom because the script requires her to be, and not much more is said about the matter. But it's clear that Diane is hiding something, and Chloe grows more and more brazen each day, ready to call her mom's bluff. And Diane is sure acting mighty suspicious.

Chloe is waiting for a potential college acceptance letter, yet every time the mail comes, Diane swoops in to grab what's there before Chloe can even take a look. Diane forbids Chloe from having a cellphone, so she doesn't exactly have access to the outside world. And when Chloe finally decides to look something up on a computer, the WiFi network is conveniently down. Then there are the pills Diane insists Chloe take – surely they're on the level, right? Well...when Chloe manages to sneak away to the pharmacy at one point she makes a rather shocking discovery about that, too. Nothing is as it seems, and the more truth Chloe uncovers the more unhinged Diane becomes.

Paulson and Allen – the latter in her feature debut – are equally great here. Paulson can play this type of cold, unhinged woman in her sleep at this point, but that doesn't make her any less captivating. The actress does a great job of making us sort of understand where Diane is coming from, at least at first. Then, when the second half of the story requires Paulson to go full-blown Kathy Bates in Misery, she really gets to have some fun. Allen, who uses a wheelchair in real life, is the real revelation here. It's a star-making performance – believable, compelling, and engrossing.

We're immediately sympathetic to Chloe's plight, and the fact that Chaganty thought to cast a real wheelchair user as his heroine is a masterstroke. The physicality that Allen brings to the role is essential to making this all work and results in some nail-biting moments – like one where Chloe has to figure out how to get down a flight of stairs, or another where she crawls across a rooftop in order to get out of a locked room. Moments like these are expertly staged and go a long way toward making Run a fun, if unsettling, ride.

But Run eventually runs out of momentum. The third act is more than a bit messy, and it starts to feel like co-writers Chaganty and Sev Ohanian never quite broke their ending when they were outlining this thing. After plowing full-speed ahead for its first two-thirds Run abruptly grinds to a halt, resulting in an unfortunately hollow climax that robs the flick of some of its strength. And a finale that's meant to pack a punch is severely lacking.

Still, with Searching and now Run, director Chaganty has carved out a neat little niche for himself as a filmmaker who excels with low-budget, high-concept thrillers. Chaganty knows how to conjure big excitement from small scale scenarios, and that's a lot harder than it looks. While Run trips over its own feet in the end, it once again signals Chaganty as a filmmaker who makes films worth seeking out.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10