It is made to seem like a favor that the principal at Mount Arrow High School isn’t calling the parents of Jaylen Brown (Skylan Brooks) in “No Running,” although they’d find only his mother (Rutina Wesley) who works almost all hours of the day would most likely be unavailable and they’re actually living away from his abusive stepfather, in a strange turn of events as his sister’s home. Jaylen’s only offense is being Black at a predominantly white school, but that is enough to tie him to the disappearance of his classmate Amira (Clark Backo), who was last seen at a Halloween party in the lakeside town that he was dragged to by his sister Simone (Diamond White). To be fair, Brown was the last person to have seen her, though the authorities would have no way of knowing that and he also has no idea what to do with the pertinent information he has, having seen an array of blue lights from the sky when she disappeared, knowing that if he can’t be trusted simply because of the color of his skin, suggesting that there may have been the involvement of aliens isn’t likely to help his case.
In his energetic feature debut, Delmar Washington flirts with sci-fi, but primarily uses the notion of other life forms light years ahead of us to suggest how our own species has remained stuck in the past, working from a clever script from Tucker Morgan. You know from the community board at the convenience store where Jaylen holds down a job that there are a few too many missing persons signs for a town of the size of Mount Arrow to know that something fishy is going on, but despite a history of disappearances, only when Jaylen shows up does it seem like an investigation is started by a suspicious local sheriff (Shane West). While generally shy, which has prevented Jaylen from asking out Amira — that, and her imposing ex-boyfriend —he unfortunately is all too used to this kind of attention and being on alert has its benefits when besides knowing his own innocence, he can lean on the usual playbook the cops deploy in order to prevent being pinned down by them as he tries to figure out exactly what’s going on.
In some ways, Washington is asking the same of audiences as he does of the characters onscreen when assumptions can be made based on the number of different genres “No Running” would seem to be a part of before yanking the rug from out under you, and although Jaylen never leaves town, the film is well-crafted as a chase film as Jaylen looks for proof to exonerate himself before ever even being charged with a crime. Turning a bunch of old parts into something new, the film feels entirely contemporary in its verve, slyly comparing the stability of those who have had the privilege to bury their past with the instability of those forced to carry it around with them every day and making one suspect it isn’t Amira who’s in a worse place, but rather the rest of us.
“No Running” will be available virtually through the Tribeca Film Festival from June 11th through June 23rd.