Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for Run.
Hulu's horror-thriller is one of the streamer's scariest original offerings yet and it's finally available watch on Netflix Canada starting today. Newcomer Kiera Allen — in her feature debut — stars as a young woman whose caring and seemingly perfect mother is hiding a dark and potentially fatal secret. While the narrative of a disabled child being abused by their overbearing mother is a rather familiar one, Run isn't directly based on a single story. Despite that, the engaging flick definitely reflects a trend of tales of both real and fictional carer abuse, and more specifically "Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another," formerly known as Munchausen by proxy. It also offers a progressive twist with an actual wheelchair user in the main role who's always centred as the story's hero rather than a victim.
The movie, directed by Aneesh Chaganty, centres around a wheelchair using teen, Chloe (Allen), and her mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson). Ensconced in their cozy, accessible home, the pair seem to be happy as they wait for Chloe's college acceptance letters. But the reality of their relationship is far more sinister and is at the heart of Run's horrifying mystery. As we find out in a late stage twist, Chloe was actually abducted from the hospital and her disability was caused by her own mother, who it's heavily implied has FDIA syndrome that leads to her abuse of Chloe.
According to the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, "Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (FDIA), also known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) is a very serious form of child abuse. The perpetrator, usually the mother, invents symptoms or causes real ones in order to make her child appear sick. Usually this is due to a maladaptive disorder or to an excessive of attention-seeking on her part."
Though it's not directly cited as an influence on Run, it's hard not to think of the real life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her abusive mother Dee Dee, whom she killed when she was 24. Their story was first highlighted by Michelle Dean at Buzzfeed whose article was later brought to life in the Emmy-winning Hulu series The Act. Dee Dee was seen as an incredible, caring mother who sacrificed everything for her disabled daughter, who struggled with many illnesses. But the reality of their relationship was far more tragic and cruel. Gypsy Rose was essentially tortured by Dee Dee, forced to undergo multiple invasive treatments and surgeries based only on the word of her mother. Though she was only diagnosed after her death, it was clear to experts that Dee Dee had likely suffered from FDIA, leading to her abuse of her daughter.
Before The Act, these stories were mostly confined to Lifetime-style ripped from the headlines adaptations, resulting in rather exploitative and often scandalous representation of the real life stories of the people harmed by their carers. The big thing that separates Run is that it's far more interested in Chloe and her story than the woman who abused her and why she did it. It's a choice that upends the way we usually see disability and also highlights another far more common form of abuse that many disabled people in America suffer from.
While FDIA is incredibly rare, carer abuse of disabled people isn't. Some studies estimate that cases are in the millions each year in the US alone. By centering Chloe, Run wants us to identify with her and understand her humanity. And by casting Allen — who uses a wheelchair in real life — the film broadens the scope of that humanity. Stories about carer abuse and murder are often reported with a sympathetic eye placed on the carer who has committed the crime. But Run paints Diane as a horror movie style villain — just as she should be — and contradicts the ableism that is so often built into reporting on stories about disability and crimes against disabled people. Here, Diane is nothing but a threat to Chloe, who's strong, resilient, and just wants to live her life as a normal teenager out of the grip of her controlling and abusive mother.
Though Run isn't based on any one true story, it's definitely a thriller that reflects the horrors of abuse against disabled people and the real life experiences of victims of carer abuse, as well as FDIA. Aside from the more horrific realities that the movie represents, there's a different more hopeful kind of truth to Run as well.
Unbelievably, it's the first major thriller to be led by a wheelchair user in 70 years, so Allen's truth and lived experiences have likely shaped the way that the story was told. It's wild that we've never seen a disabled action hero (played by a disabled actor) even though we know disabled people can be just as athletic, strong, badass, and reluctantly heroic as our non-disabled counterparts. Hopefully that very real aspect of Run along with Allen's performance can begin to change the way we see disabled stories from here on out.