Sunday, November 15, 2020

"Run" on Hulu, an excellent thriller starring wheelchair user Kiera Allen, moves disability representation in positive direction

 Review by Beth A. Haller, Media dis&dat

Note: “Run” was originally slated for theatrical release in May, but when the Covid-19 pandemic shut theaters, Hulu bought distribution rights in August. “Run” will premiere on Hulu November 20, 2020.

“Run” is a bold thriller with “American Horror Story” staple and Emmy winner Sarah Paulson and newcomer Kiera Allen, who is a wheelchair user. The Lionsgate film, directed by Aneesh Chaganty, is the first Hollywood studio film to star a wheelchair user since 1948, when Susan Peters starred in “Sign of the Ram” for MGM. (Peters, already an Academy Award-nominated actor, became disabled in a gun accident in 1945.)

Allen is the true star of the film and has the most screen time as the home-schooled teen, Chloe, who begins to suspect all is not right in her isolated, rural home that she shares with her mother Diane (Paulson). Chloe is ready to break free and go to college and that sets off the terror. 

Unlike other films that disable characters to make them vulnerable, the Chloe character's disability in “Run” is just another character trait - one that aids her resourcefulness, as her home schooling does. Several scenes feature Allen's character MacGyvering her way around obstacles. It is thrilling to watch, and the audience becomes invested in Chloe figuring out the secrets and out-maneuvering Diane’s control. It also confirms that Hollywood studios should be casting many more disabled actors for all kinds of roles: Allen gives a brilliant physical performance because she has a number of scenes with no dialogue. Chloe ingeniously figures out workarounds when presented with any difficulty.

Paulson’s Diane shows her finesse with the thriller genre as her character subtly shifts from motherly to menacing. Chloe and Diane’s relationship arc takes the audience on a psychological ride through the awakening to the secrets around Chloe. Diane believes she can control Chloe because of her disability, not realizing she has raised a resilient young woman who is every bit her match. 

The film also uses CGI in one scene in a way I have long advocated - to show a wheelchair-using character walking in the past or in the future, but through CGI, a disabled actor is used in the scene with CGI’d walking.

“Run” illustrates how the representation of a disabled character can have depth and nuance, but having a disability is not the only memorable thing about the character. Director Chaganty took a collaborative approach in working with Allen to make sure she, as a disabled person, help craft an authentic character. Read about their work together here.  

“Run” feels like the beginning of a new positive trajectory for disabled characters in film. I hope that all Hollywood studios continue on this path of authentic representation.