‘Run’ Chillingly Turns Sarah Paulson Into a Maniacal Mother Who Won’t Let Go 

Sarah Paulson becomes every college-bound student’s worst nightmare in “Run.” She’s the mom so unwilling to let go she’ll even try murder. Paulson’s performance is what helps make this a wicked enjoyment in the tradition of classic paranoid thrillers. Less is more has always been one of the best approaches when the director and cast are well paired. “Run,” which premieres exclusively on Hulu, works on a very simple premise where the scares are so relatable they might remind you of some nightmare you recently had, or if you have overbearing parents the anxiety levels will skyrocket.

Paulson is Diane Sherman, a single mother who has homeschooled her disabled teenage daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) her entire life. But now Chloe is getting ready for college and anxiously awaits the arrival of any acceptance letters. Chloe was a preemie who has lived with paralysis of her legs, diabetes, asthma and arrhythmia. Naturally Diane has been overprotective. However she is taking on a more ominous air as Chloe seems very enthusiastic about leaving the nest. Chloe also starts to wonder why they only have an old desktop computer as their sole internet source (and which Diane shuts down at night). The clincher comes when Chloe decides to inspect the bottles Diane uses to give her medication and makes a shocking discovery. Suddenly all she has known could be a lie. As Chloe now tries to escape and find answers, Diane reveals to what lengths she will go to keep her daughter home.

“Run” is one of those thrillers that play like a decent song cover. We’ve seen this kind of plot before but director Aneesh Chaganty pulls it off impressively well. Like Stephen King’s “Misery,” this is a tale of demented entrapment done with just enough realism to make even the most extreme moments feel plausible. The screenplay by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian has ingenious ways of ratcheting up the tension and puzzles. The internet in the secluded home where Diane and Chloe live doesn’t work, when Chloe tries to make secret calls to contact the outside world she has to hang up, lest it appear on the phone bill (it’s a land line), and what Diane is surely feeding her the wrong medication. Extreme? Sure. But notice recent news headlines about children kept imprisoned for years by disturbed adults. 

Chaganty also avoids making Chloe’s efforts to get away seem too much like action movie stunts. “Run” has an old-fashioned quality where Chloe must crawl through windows or somehow make it down a road on her wheelchair before Diane can pass by. There is a scene with a mail truck that seems familiar but Chaganty directs it with real efficiency. We still get fooled into not seeing a certain shock coming. There’s also barely a shot fired in this entire movie. Locked doors and syringes are just enough. Suspense comes primarily from the imbalance in power. Chloe is a prisoner while Diane controls the phone, the house and the car. The editing is so crisp we’re on the edge of our seats when Chloe attempts a phone call and Chaganty continuously cuts to Diane doing some gardening, and we wonder with Chloe how long before she walks back into the house.

Then there is Sarah Paulson, who becomes the center of the movie’s eerie effect. One of the great modern actors, Paulson has always had a unique way of playing vulnerable, sweet and then icy darkness. “Run” is almost an extension of her gloriously insane role as Nurse Ratched in Ryan Murphy’s gothic opus, “Ratched.” Here she’s the year’s most frightening possessive mom. Diane is completely unwilling to let Chloe go, even if she has to poison her or kill anyone who gets in the way. While chasing her daughter she’s a portrait of tragic lunacy, but flashbacks that reveal why she feels the way she does have a surprising empathy, even if nothing about her actions is justifiable. Kiera Allen is making her feature film debut here and is up to the challenge of facing down Paulson. She’s intelligent and crafty, while dealing with being scared out of her wits. 

“Run” compacts into a one-and-a-half-hour movie of strong acting, lively filmmaking and a script that understands the spirit of good thrillers. The best ones take relatable ideas and push them over the cliff. This one brings to life that nightmare of being under the clutches of a total maniac, which is worse if it turns out to be your mom. When Chloe finds out some stunning truths about her identity it’s like a wonderfully psychotic metaphor for the paranoia of being lied to by our elders. It’s also simply a great plot twist. Even more diabolical is how “Run” is being released at a time when many millennials and Gen Z’ers have no choice but stay home with their parents. It’s true, there’s no place like home. Yet for some that’s the most terrifying thought of all.

Run” begins streaming Nov. 20 on Hulu.