A slacker psycho thriller that will keep audiences off balance ’til the bitter end, “Runaway” manages to use the questions it raises — via narrative inconsistencies and character quirks — to pack more powder into its explosive payoff. Pic will find favor not just at fests but with younger auds in general, especially those craving a bit of the off-beat. Teenaged moviegoers in particular may relate to the alienated, James Deanish persona of Michael Adler, played with convincing, fractured charm by Aaron Stanford.
Somewhere in what seems like upstate New York, Michael has taken a job at a local convenience store owned by Mo (the likable Peter Gerety), where he works side by side with saucy, smart-mouthed Carly (Robin Tunney). Together, they serve the locals and kill time. But every night when Michael goes back to the cheap hotel room he’s renting, he’s greeted by his younger brother, Dylan (Zack Savage), whom he’s kidnapped to save from the certain molestation he believes is coming at the hands of their menacing father (Michael Gaston).
Michael’s own memories of abuse flash in and out of his mind — director Tim McCann (“Desolation Angels”) has a fluid way with the hallucinogenic capabilities of video. Each scene is calculated to place the beleaguered Michael in an alternate universe. Michael’s attempts to balance an impossible set of duties — to Dylan, to Mo, and eventually to Carly — have viewers waiting to see which way things will crash.
Tunney has never seemed to find quite the right vehicle for her particular look and talents — she’s always seemed like the girl who flunked out of “Friends” for bad behavior. But here, as a wheel-spinning beauty with her own history of abuse, Tunney gives a solid performance, one that complements Stanford’s low-key wariness and fear. Apart, they would be good; together they’re better.
There are brief but paralyzing performances, too, by Gaston and Melissa Leo, as Michael’s mother. Each has a separate but powerful moment of parental outrage and disgust that their son would question their motives or wisdom.
Still, it becomes abundantly clear Michael must escape with his brother. What he escapes to is the stuff of nightmares.
Tech credits are above average.