Has depravity ever had a sweeter face than Sarah Paulson's? In the gleefully hammy hothouse thriller Run (on Hulu Nov. 20) the Ratched star turns up as another kind of cuckoo caretaker with a client base of one: her disabled teenage daughter, Chloe (bright newcomer Kiera Allen, who also uses a wheelchair).
A preemie who barely survived her birth — her long list of maladies, from paralysis and diabetes to asthma and arrhythmia, reads like a med-school case study — Chloe has somehow still become a happy, well-adjusted kid. Now a home-schooled high school senior, she and Paulson's Diane have settled into their cozy routines: daily lessons in physics or American lit, chatty meals around the kitchen table, maybe a movie in town.
So what if Diane sometimes likes to go down in the basement with a glass of wine and watch old home movies with a stricken, inscrutable smile on her face? And that she keeps the only source of internet in the house — an ancient desktop that looks like it's still learning to process Windows 98 — locked down at night? Or that Chloe, as eager as any 17-year-old to get out into the world, can't ever seem to find responses to the colleges she's applied to when the mailman comes?
An odd incident with a new medication — there's something off about the label, and the source of it — leads her daughter to suspect, for the first time, that all might not be right with dear Diane. From there, director Aneesh Chaganty (who made his debut with 2018's clever digital whodunit Searching) plunges headlong into a familiar catalog of dangled clues, near misses, and wildly convenient coincidences.
Like another recent thriller it recalls, last year's Octavia Spencer vehicle Ma, his script (co-penned with Sev Ohanian) hints intriguingly at a deeper backstory for its protagonist — the kind of circumstances that might lead a lonely, unhappy woman to weaponize her own fears and insecurities.
Instead, the movie mostly sticks to a timeworn template, letting its two stars carry what the scantly drawn story can't. (Though it's Allen's film debut, she has a natural ease that cuts against Paulson's higher drama; it's a pleasure to watch someone on screen who feels like an actual teenager and not some glossy, angsty avatar engineered in a lab by the CW.) If the plot tends to outline its intentions in Sharpie — and veer into pure silliness by the final third — their presence pulls all that ridiculosity over the finish line: hardly a home run, but still a brittle, nasty bit of fun. Grade: B-