Narrative Feature
Country: United States
Runtime: 01:13:00
Director and writer: Marian Mathias
Producers: Joy Jorgensen
Key Cast: Omar El Kadi

Filmmaker Marian Mathias’s debut feature, Runner, constructs a meticulously crafted, self-contained world with its own distinct rules. Set in the American Midwest, it presents an enigmatic, semi-surreal coming-of-age tale. However, despite Mathias’s adeptness at conjuring eerie imagery, the film’s overwhelming sense of claustrophobia hampers its ability to truly captivate beyond a somber, hallucinatory surface.

Runner unfolds in a peculiar temporal limbo, evoking a bygone era with its vintage aesthetics and melancholic atmosphere. The story follows 18-year-old protagonist Hannah, known as Haas, who resides with her father Alvin in a dilapidated house amidst a desolate landscape. Alvin, fixated on selling an imaginary collection of homes near the Mississippi, meets a tragic end, leaving Haas to navigate the aftermath.

As Haas embarks on a journey to bury her father, she encounters a series of characters and experiences that blur the line between reality and dream. Amidst heavy rains and fleeting moments of connection, she forms a bond with a young man named Will before ultimately returning home.

Runner thrives on poetic repetition and evocative motifs, such as Haas’s restless nights and the solemn presence of locals who serve as a silent chorus. The film’s visual composition, reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth paintings, and its haunting sound design contribute to its enigmatic ambiance. While the performances are generally subdued, Darren Houle stands out with his empathetic portrayal of Will.

With its blend of ambient electronics and vintage country songs, Runner transports viewers to a hauntingly beautiful yet desolate landscape. While Mathias demonstrates promise as a filmmaker, Runner struggles to transcend its oppressive mood and offer a truly immersive experience beyond its festival screenings.