Warning: There are major spoilers for Run ahead.
Run has one twist that you’ve probably seen before. But by the time the end credits roll, the film delivers two other twists that completely subvert what we’ve come to expect from stories about disability.
From the outset it’s clear that something isn’t right with Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson). The sickly green light of the hospital casts a glow over her face as she stares at her newborn child. Through a credits sequence of medical documents we learn that Diane’s daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) has many illnesses and ailments including paralysis from the waist down. It’s only in the final act of the film that writer/director Aneesh Chaganty confirms our suspicions that Chloe’s been in a battle for survival since her birth against the woman that she thought was her mother.
Run’s first major twist won’t be too shocking to anyone who’s watched a Lifetime movie or who watched all of the Emmy-winning fictionalised true crime series The Act. While trapped in her basement, Chloe uncovers a series of documents that reveal a haunting truth. Diane kidnapped her as a baby after her own child died during delivery and apparently — though it’s never named — suffered from Factitious disorder imposed on another (which used to be known as Munchausen by proxy.) This means that throughout Chloe’s life, Diane has inflicted all kinds torture and abuse on her in order to make Chloe vulnerable and dependent on her captor, creating the illusion and then the reality of disability and illness. This twist is signposted from pretty early on, especially as we discover along with Chloe that her mother has been feeding her canine muscle relaxants, which sparks off her imprisonment within the house she always called home.
Chloe’s reaction to the shocking reveal is one of Run’s strongest and most subtly powerful moments and stands out as a great example of how the film treats disability with a respect and equity that’s often lacking on screen. Chloe only resents her mother’s lies, deceit, and abuse. In fact, she even states later in the movie that she’s fine if she never learns how to walk again. Chloe’s disability isn’t questioned or seen as any kind of vilification or punishment, and her relationship with it doesn’t change even when she discovers that her mother was the cause of her illness. Throughout the film we’re treated to a portrayal of Chloe as a completely normal teenager who just happens to use a wheelchair. That’s in part due to Allen’s brilliant performance — she’s a wheelchair user herself — and the set design of Diane and Chloe’s home which is totally accessible until Diane doesn’t want it to be, which is entirely the point. Chloe’s ability and agency is only ever taken away due to her mother’s abusive and controlling nature.
While the Munchausen angle might have been done before, the next set of twists is where things really heat up. Chloe is far from a victim and throughout the film has shown herself to be entirely capable. The claustrophobic nature of Run means she has no allies and there’s certainly no knight in shining armour around to save her, so she takes drastic measures. Realising she needs to get out of her basement prison in order to survive Diane’s maniacal plan, Chloe swallows a household cleaner, knowing that her captor will never let her die on her own terms. Rushed to the hospital, Chloe tries to ask for help but is unable to. Luckily she manages to write the word “mom” on a small piece of paper before Diane turns up to kidnap her out of the hospital-mandated 24 hour stay that all suicidal teens have to go through before being released.
During their final showdown, Chloe is left at the mercy of her mother. But just as Diane is about to push her daughter down a scarily steep escalator, the police arrive thanks to Chloe’s quick thinking with the note. This is where any classic Lifetime movie would end. The credits would roll over a “what happened next moment” and maybe we’d see Chloe living happily, probably wandering around as if she had never been disabled at all. But Run isn’t finished with the surprises yet. And with what happens next, Chaganty upends our expectations, shifting gears one last time to truly lean into the exploitation and revenge thrillers that clearly informed Run.
Chloe’s story of survival is inherently inspiring, but Run is loath to play into that particular trope and instead we get a final pitch-black twist that will likely divide audiences. Skipping a decade ahead, we see Chloe visiting the woman who once tormented her. Chloe’s an ambulatory wheelchair user now — like so many Americans and Canadians — who’s able to get out of her chair and walk through the metal detector that separates her from Diane’s institutional hospital bed.
When the pair are reunited, Chloe is all polite small talk and eager chatter while Diane lays appearing overly aged and near catatonic. Our hero regales her “mother” with tales of her success, her happy life, and it appears that she may have reached a place of forgiveness regarding the horrors that Diane wrought on her. But just as it seems like Run wants to make Chloe a saint, it reveals its hand. Chloe has been visiting Diane in order to feed her the same canine muscle relaxant pills that she was once forced to take. Her apparent kindness is hiding a brutal and long-running revenge scheme from the old testament school of an eye for an eye.
It’s a twist that plants Chloe firmly into the anti-heroine camp and ends Run on a tone that’s far more similar to revenge-thrillers like Double Jeopardy, I Spit on Your Grave, or The Perfection. In terms of stories about disability, it rejects the inspiration-porn type narratives we often get which pose disabled people as saints and martyrs. It also echoes the controversial ending of Tod Browning’s groundbreaking pre-code horror Freaks which sees the disabled circus performers — played by actual disabled people —wreak revenge on the able-bodied woman who terrorised them by making her a “freak” just like them. Though Run is a little more subtle in its final twist, the ending will undoubtedly be just as divisive.