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The sophomore effort has always been, and forever will be the ultimate high-wire act for exciting up-and-coming filmmakers. An eye-catching feature debut puts them on a pedestal, and their second effort determines whether or not the skills they demonstrated are legitimate or were just a fluke. The pressure can be crushing for some, but for others the opportunity serves as an awesome proving ground. In the case of writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, Run not only falls into the latter camp, but instantly makes one anticipate anything he has coming up next.

Chaganty first turned heads two years ago with Searching, which is a film that has weaknesses narratively, but is also impressive and ambitious in its ability to have an entire thriller play out across the screens of devices used by the characters. His follow-up doesn’t have a hook of a similar nature, but what it does do is craft a much stronger story, and keeps the audience perpetually on the edge waiting for the next disturbing, unexpected twist. Add in twin excellent performances from the always-great Sarah Paulson and newcomer Kiera Allen, and you have one of the best and most surprising thrillers of the year.

Run first introduces us to Diane Sherman (Paulson) shortly after she has given birth, with doctors working diligently to try and save the life of her incredibly small baby. Seventeen years later we are then introduced to Chloe (Allen), who lives with a number of conditions – including an irregular heartbeat, diabetes, asthma, and paraplegia – but is ready to start her independent life in college away from her mom. Publically Diane makes it seem like she is excited to see her daughter head off to a university after a life of home-schooling, but when they are alone she is overly controlling, and treats Chloe like a child.

It’s because of this patronizing that things begin to unravel, starting with Chloe making a daring attempt to sneak chocolates out of her mother’s groceries (treats that are only meant as a reward for low blood sugar test results after dinner). While attempting to cover her tracks she notices that there is a bottle of pills in the bag that is prescribed to Diane – and later that night one of those same pills is included in her round of medications. She takes it, but her suspicions mount.

Her contact with the outside world kept to a minimum, Chloe is forced to get creative when it comes to researching what it is that her mother is giving her. Ultimately she is successful, but what she discovers winds up being more shocking and horrifying than she could have ever imagined.

Run is a thriller that doesn’t settle for a solitary twist, but instead keeps you guessing throughout.

The biggest problem I had with Searching was that its central mystery didn’t function quite as well as it should have, with the pool of suspects kept too small to create any real ambiguity about the big third act twist. In Run, Aneesh Chaganty doesn’t make that same kind of mistake again, and his ability to avert it winds up being one of the movie’s greatest strengths. You may think you know where the plot is going based on the description provided above, and the truth is that you’re probably spot on – but the story doesn’t just settle there. Instead, that twist winds up serving as a platform to another twist, and then the cycle repeats again and again throughout until the very last second when it strikes with an impressive final punch.

The film is built on escalation with a few thrilling puzzles along the way, and it’s impressive how it continues to up the stakes while also being clever and creative.

Given the opportunity to move the camera, Aneesh Chaganty crafts some extra cool shots in Run.

Part of that puzzle element stems from the fact that Run is primarily limited to a single location – Diane and Chloe’s house – but the movie both makes inventive use of the space, and features smart and effective cinematography that enhances it. Teamed with cinematographer Hillary Spera, Aneesh Chaganty makes dynamic use of focus changes, zooms, and tracking shots, and just the lighting alone does a remarkable job transforming the look of the home from beginning to end. While a lot of writer/directors see their talents lean more heavily towards one or the other jobs, Chaganty is proving himself a full double-threat who is equally capable penning and staging a scene.

Sarah Paulson’s performance will get your heart racing, and Kiera Allen proves an exceptional young lead.

The icing on the cake is that both Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen deliver exemplary turns in what are sincerely complex roles. While she has some charming and sweet moments as Diane, Paulson also plays her with dashes of Baby Jane Hudson and Annie Wilkes, letting the character’s passionate love for her daughter serve as the only compass she needs as she is driven to some scary places. When the character is showing how far she’ll go, it’s freaky stuff.

Allen, meanwhile, is a remarkable find for this project. Run is her first feature film, and she not only bears the full narrative on her shoulders, but also the physical challenges of Chloe’s ailments. But you’d never suspect her lack of experience because she handles every aspect of the performance like a veteran star. Like Searching did for Aneesh Chaganty, Kiera Allen’s work here is going to get her a lot of attention.

Run is the exact kind of film that makes one miss theaters evermore, as it’s a movie made to elicit gasps and “oohs” from a packed crowd – but even just having that experience alone, with your spouse, your roommates, or your family makes it more than worth your time. It’s a thrilling late-2020 ride that affirms Aneesh Chaganty is the real deal.

8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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