Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Nightstream 2020.01: Run

I'm not quite going to say that the scariest thing about this genre film festival was entering the data for it into the eFilmCritic database and pausing over whether to include "2020" in the title. Like, are we still going to be in a situation where we do this again next October, or maybe just looking to do a smaller one as things are getting back to normal in only a few early fests have had to be cancelled, or might this just be an annual thing where a bunch of festivals bring genre movies to the people who maybe don't live near one?

It's at least been a successful enough event that it could be the latter - the back-end went off without a hitch from what I've read and experienced, and running the whole thing through Eventive meant that my Roku handled it without issue, aside from needing to use the laptop for the Q&A things. Much smoother than NYAFF, at least, among the ones I've "attended", and it was scheduled pretty nicely - a few things (like Run) were only available at set times, and a few things (like the shorts packages) were online at the start, but the rollout of various films throughout the weekend created a bit of a feeling that we're watching it together and making schedules, especially for those who want to sync to the Q&As live, and while it's not perfectly flexible, there's a little something to trying to make this more than just a block of movies available for a limited time.

Speaking of Q&As, the one for Run was fun; the filmmakers talked about how doing these sort of small-scale thrillers was a good way to break into features, and how part of the challenge they were enjoying was finding new things to do within that niche every time, with the one they are working on now a heist movie. One thing that didn't particularly come up that I found was interesting is that star Kiera Allen uses a wheelchair to get around (based on what I've read online), and it's cool that they're not doing a victory lap on representation even though they're clearly making more of an effort than a lot of movies that don't even have the excuse of wanting to do flashbacks do. She's a fun young actor I hope to see more of, especially as she talked about how part of the audition video she sent it was showing how pumped she was for the stunt scene, and how it wound up being half her in a studio and half a stuntwoman on location. It was her first big production, so she was excited by doing stuff like that, or learning how the director would say to look at some counterintuitive point because just looking at her co-star wouldn't necessarily seem right on film. She also was really excited to work with Sarah Paulson, who I've liked since Jack & Jill and has seemed to attain "That Guy" status in recent years - in a lot, sometimes as the lead, but even then not really a star whose name casts a shadow on the production.

Anyway! It was fun, and I'm kind of sad that this wound up going to Hulu instead of theaters, especially since I figure it's the sort of thing theaters could use right now: Short, enough name recognition to get people's interest rather than just looking like opportunistic material, good enough to get good word of mouth and maybe keep playing for a few weeks. Maybe it will get some play - there is a lot of "what the heck, why not play the streaming stuff" at Landmark Kendall Square, after all - but it seems kind of funny that Searching did pretty darn okay in theaters when it was far more built for home screens than this!

Run (2020)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 October 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Nightstream, Eventive via Roku)

A couple years ago, director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian made what is probably the best of the recent group of movies presented entirely as what appears on various characters's screens in Searching, and for their follow-up, they don't necessarily entirely go the opposite way, but one of the more suspenseful scenes in Run is built around its heroine trying to do some pre-internet-style search. It's a nifty bit in a film that's got a few of them, packed into a tight little package.

Diane Sherman's baby was born premature with arrhythmia, asthma, diabetes, and lower-body paralysis, with the implication it was because she was a mess 18 years ago. Now, though, Diane (Sarah Paulson) has really gotten herself together, remarkably self-sufficient in her small-town Washington State home, occasionally subbing at the high school, and telling her home-schooling support group that she's excited for her smart, super-competent daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) to go off to college, so they can both really get started on a real life. That acceptance letter from the university seems awfully slow in coming, though, and Chloe briefly spots that her new medication has her mother's name on the bottle, rather than hers.

One way to approach this thriller would be to play coy, choosing one's shots and moments to highlight how normal things seem, and the filmmakers do some clever sleight-of-hand in that regard; because Chloe is in a wheelchair, Chaganty spends a fair amount of the opening act getting the audience up to speed on things that non-disabled people might be familiar with. While noting that set of accomodations, some may be inclined to lump other things in with it, feeding the engine that makes everything function: Certain things aren't "normal" but there's not really any way for the people involved to notice that when it has always been that way.

The filmmakers do that, but they also realize that they can only string it along for so long and that a bunch of reversals which will later get reversed themselves will just make Chloe look foolish when taken altogether even if they seem individually sensible. So they start to tip their hand fairly early, counting on the audience's instincts to carry some weight (and maybe suggest a familiar alternate explanation) even as they build a set of increasingly gnarly situations for Chloe. They might not be showstoppers in other movies, but in this one, they're extremely effective because of how precisely they are deployed: Chloe's attempts to get information that might be otherwise much easier to come by highlight just how strictly parents can sometimes control a kid's life, on the one hand, and on the other, there's a terrific sequence where she's got to MacGyver her way through a house that is far less handicapped-accessible than it was. It feels like a big action scene even if it doesn't particularly suffer from the film losing its big-screen release because it's 2020.

They're all great showcases for Kiera Allen, who is good enough in her feature debut that other filmmakers will hopefully be rewriting characters not originally conceived as disabled to accommodate casting her. She's quickly able to establish Chloe as everything Diane brags about her being at the top but also dive into how she can be abrasive in her desperation and righteously angry. Something that both she and Sarah Paulson tap into that doesn't always come across is that most people aren't really practiced at lying or other forms of deception, and even the big ones tend to rely on people not questioning them. Diane has been lying to herself as well Chloe, and Paulson seldom plays it as clever or convincing as opposed to increasingly desperate.

This lets Chaganty and company go hard with the homestretch, which has a few nifty individual bits but isn't quite up to what came before, one of those cases where switching locations highlights a character's ability to think on her feet at the expense of her being surrounded by things with meaning to her and the audience. There aren't a lot of other missteps here, though, and I'm very excited to see what this group has up their sleeve for their next movie.

Also at eFilmCritic

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