Run movie review: Aneesh Chaganty directorial is deliciously grim, but not overwrought with dourness of lunacy
Run on Netflix India is all about self-defined matriarchal instincts
Aneesh Chaganty’s Run, opens with the miracle of life, the birth of a child followed by the cried-out eyes of an expectant mother looking at it longingly. The screen then cuts to black as if a primer to the grim tunnel we are about to walk through. The parent child relationship has been the subject of not just cinema but psychology as well. We are all varying reflections of the relationships we have with our parents. At least true crime documentaries and the well-established origin stories of serial killers tell us so. But while the parent’s influence on the child remains a key focus of cultural production worldwide, rarely do we see the parental view on things. To which effect Run isn’t about reactive parenting but about self-defined matriarchal instincts. It’s the story of an overprotective mother who goes to chilling lengths to become one.
Chaganty’s last film, the incredibly effective Searching (2018), coincidentally portrayed another protective aspect of parenthood by following a despairing father’s hunt for his daughter’s whereabouts through the rigmarole of digital footprints. Run, is built from entirely different DNA. Sarah Poulsen plays Diane, a dedicated mother trying to raise her daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) a teenager with several body and bone ailments that limit her mobility and strength. All of these, are by the way, listed ahead of the film as a kind of coda to their importance to the story. Chloe is home-schooled, in a wheelchair and pops pills by the minute to get by. Poulsen calmly goes about her life, from attending homeschool counselling sessions to ferrying groceries and medicine. We, however, don’t see a lot of Diane’s other life, if it exists at all.
An informal code of conduct exists in the house. Chloe has access to necessities but has been coached to accept the mundanity of bare survival. She doesn’t have free access to the internet and seems perfectly at home with many such restrictions. It’s as if her illness plagues the mind more than it plagues the body. There are enough clues to suspect Chloe’s condition, the list of illnesses presented as a placard from the off being one. Poulsen’s flawless performance, however, acts as the perfect foil for everything you might suspect. In one scene where Chloe’s paranoia leaves her gasping for breath in a medical store, Poulsen’s cold-blooded grace morphs into an adequate amount of motherly panic and caution. It’s a masterclass in acting, a seamless transition from chilling control to believable anxiety from having momentarily lost it.
Run’s script must be lauded for its deft handling of the maniacal limits it paints Poulsen’s character inside. I was reminded of Lynn Ramsay’s equally disturbing exploration of motherhood We need to talk about Kevin (2011), a harrowing study of the Oedipus complex that relied on its mannerisms more than the choreography of its silences. Run, contrary to its name, is more interested in shielding the sadism of its premise presenting it in the calculated normalcy of a world where this might even be normal. To Diane, it certainly is. Chloe, on the other hand, is stung by curiosity and a yearning to go to college. There are medicines and calming devices aplenty in the world, but human curiosity, the film tells us, simply cannot be bound by wheelchairs or fatal conditions. It moves, jumps, trips and wants to fly every which way it sees possible.
The construction of Chloe’s world, the manipulated reality she must buy as the real thing, would have been the hardest to create, considering, technology is abundantly intrusive in everyone’s lives today. Apart from a few hairy details, like why doesn’t Diane ever have a visitor or why does she even bother telling people about Chloe if the plan is to never let her out of the house, Chaganty is largely successful in making us believe this grand manipulation could be pulled off, even for a gullible 17-year-old. It’s at the end of the day a battle between human curiosity and the worst instincts of self-serving motherly ambition. The film is tailed by suspense, which you can kind of see ahead of time. Its grand reveal really doesn’t really surprise but lends emotional heft to Diane’s warped sense of victimhood and her absurd relationship with her daughter.
Both of Chaganty’s films are incredibly promising genre works that have found found clever ways of telling old, worn stories. It points to a Director capable of reinventing the scales against which cinema is measured. Of the two, Run, is easily the darker film. It’s deliciously grim for a sensitive subject but isn’t overwrought with the dourness of lunacy. Chaganty tries to reason for the characters and succeeds in large parts to convey their desperation, there hard-to-believe choices. It’s a fine line between the easily fetishized exaggerations of idiosyncratic behaviour and the incisiveness of pain and grief that gradually define our foremost instincts in life. Despite its absurdities Run is supremely effective in convincing us of the latter.
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