A teenager named Jaylen (Skylan Brooks) wakes up bruised and battered from a sudden car crash. Suddenly, he’s surrounded by police and arrested. The very beginning of No Running provides this as a distinct visual that sets up an expectation. Director Delmar Washington and screenwriter Tucker Morgan look to weave current racial tensions within a science fiction container. When you think about it, the genre is a perfect vehicle for a theme so timely. Stories that sometimes show the best and worst of humankind can be used to turn the mirror around back at us. The team of Washington and Morgan seek to combine a lot of themes together.
Jaylen and his family move to the small town of Mount Arrow. His mother Ramila (Rutina Wesley) has endured physical abuse from his step-father, and there are inferences of an altercation with Jaylen that got him into trouble. Oddly enough, he, his mother, and his sister Simone (Diamond White) have to stay in a house with his step-father’s sister, Susie (Taryn Manning). Mount Arrow seems like any quintessential, cozy town nestled away in the country.
Something seems off to Jaylen about it. This is compounded by meeting a potential love interest named Amina (Clark Backo). The movie plays off the typical jealous-ex-boyfriend trope with a guy named Brock (Zak Steiner) who doesn’t like how close they are getting. When they get some alone time, a thunderstorm happens that separates them. Amina goes missing, with Jaylen left to investigate where’s she had gone. What is left is both a buried history about the town itself and a fugitive story built on long-standing racism within the town.
The potential alien element of No Running serves as the foundation for the first two acts of the movie. When Jaylen does an investigation, he finds out that this has happened before about 40 years ago. So there’s an element of following leads to figure out what happened there. Complete with an older citizen of the town named Tim (Bill Engvall) that seems like a conspiratorial pariah of Mount Arrow. He’s one of the few people that believes Jaylen’s story. Another component is the racial aspect. It clashes with the other themes of the film when it could have been developed further.
Once No Running kicks into high gear, a lot of the subtitle prejudice seems to come out of nowhere. Jaylen has a white friend named Trevor (Hart Denton) that he works with and is the son of a racist cop in the town (played by Shane West). When everybody starts to look at Jaylen differently after the disappearance, Trevor turns on him as well. As Jaylen is trying to uncover the secrets of Mount Arrow to clear his name, that’s when the town’s long-running hatred impedes him. Skylan Brooks’s performance helps maneuver the changes in tone. He’s scared when he needs to be. Overcome with anger when he’s confronted with his family problems or what he faces concerning the town.
It’s when the more fantasy elements take control where the film falters a bit. There’s obviously some phenomenon happening with people being taken. Maybe there’s a bigger world at stake, and it’s left open-ended, but a tad bit more explanation would have made it more worthwhile. No Running has a lot of engrossing ideas within it. It’s a sci-fi mystery with a small-town element of generational racism. There’s also a bit of family trauma and trying to turn the page. When the film allows its crazier ideas to take the wheel, the substance in the societal message it’s trying to convey gets muddy.
Photo Credit: Defiant Studios