In M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 classic “The Sixth Sense,” there’s a chilling subplot about a little girl (played by the very young Mischa Barton) who was poisoned by her putatively caring stepmother — an example of a deeply disturbing disorder known as Munchausen by proxy. I don’t recall seeing a ton of movies or TV shows invoking that particular form of madness in the ensuing years, but in recent times it’s become a go-to plot device on TV and at the movies, from the series “Sharp Objects, “The Act,” “The Clique” and “The Politician” to feature films “The Phantom Thread,” “It,” “Everything, Everything” and “Ma.”
Here we go again with “Run,” which shows a lack of creativity in recycling the Munchausen by proxy theme — not to mention that generic title, which was recently used for an HBO limited series and has been invoked for any number of films and TV shows over the years. Directed with style and a keen sense of pacing by Aneesh Chaganty (who also co-wrote) and featuring an entertainingly near-camp performance by Sarah Paulson as Mommy Fearest (I know that’s not a word but that’s what she is), “Run” is stopped dead in its tracks by a howler of a screenplay that regularly calls for various characters to behave as stupidly as the dumbest victim in a splatter movie. And there are not one, not two, but THREE extended sequences that are so insanely implausible and ring so false, it’s a wonder the scenes in question ever got past the first rewrite stage.
Paulson’s Diane is a twitchy, overly cheerful, smothering mother who has dedicated virtually every waking minute over the last 17 years to nursing, home schooling and tending to the needs of her daughter Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen, doing fine work), who is paralyzed from the waist down, diabetic and asthmatic. Like most of the moms in this genre, Diane doesn’t allow Chloe to do anything on her own and apparently never has allowed any other relatives or any neighbors or any potential friends for Chloe to so much as enter the house. And even though Chloe is a smart and seemingly well-adjusted and outgoing kid, she has never questioned that. Mom also forbids Chloe to have a cell phone and restricts her access to the Internet, essentially keeping Chloe trapped in a deceptively warm and caring bubble.
Chloe has applied to the University of Washington, among other colleges, but oddly enough, none of the schools have responded, even though her grades are top-notch. Mom keeps telling Chloe if any letters arrive addressed to her, Chloe will be the first to know — but judging by how Mom dives for the daily mail like she’s a linebacker going after a loose football in the fourth quarter, it’s pretty obvious she’s not telling Chloe the truth. Gradually, ever so gradually, Chloe comes to suspect something ain’t right, and perhaps all those pills and shots Mom gives her aren’t for her own good. Cue the over-the-top orchestral score and the nods to “Misery”!
As Chloe and her mother play verbal games of cat and mouse, with each suspecting the other is withholding some major truths, “Run” plays puppeteer with the audience, as Chloe tries to do some investigative digging while plotting an escape. At one point she winds up desperately clawing her way across the roof of her house, in a scene that plays like a twisted take on one of those TV stunt game shows. An encounter at the pharmacy is even more ludicrous, and don’t get me started on a phone call Chloe makes to a random stranger in the hopes he’ll look something up for her on the Google. (Is it possible for someone to overact in a role that’s strictly a voice on the phone? Answer: yes.)
After a couple of plot turns we can see barreling down the road, “Run” becomes increasingly ridiculous, to the point where if you can indulge the madness and never question the insanely reality-defying developments, you might be able to enjoy Chaganty’s B-movie Hitchcockian touches and the all-in performances from Paulson and Allen. But even if you’re in a forgiving mood, the epilogue is such a sour downer I can’t imagine it not leaving a foul aftertaste.