Just as Jaws spawned dozens of imitations of man-eating animals in and out of the water, Die Hard has spawned numerous riffs in which “average” characters clash with armed terrorists. Decades later, while the originals remain classics, would-be clones keep coming. The newest of the latter is essentially “Die Hard in a High School,” but while 1991 Toy Soldiers saw teenagers taking on clichéd terrorists Run Hide Fight presents his hero with a far more realistic threat: school shooters. The concept of an action film set during a school shoot may be understandably uncomfortable for some, but despite a few stumbling blocks trying to find the line between seriousness and exploiter, it succeeds where a solid, engaging, and often suspenseful story matters of bravery, cruelty and catharsis.
Zoe (Isabel May) has been closed since her mother’s death (Radha Mitchell) of cancer, and while she’s still pacing her every day, there’s little to keep her motivated until tomorrow. Zoe still goes hunting with her father in the morning (Thomas Jane) and hang out with her best friend Lewis (Olly Sholotan |), but her heart is just not there. That changes one day at school when a van crashes into the cafeteria and four students start shooting down teenagers and teachers alike. Zoe plays it smart and escapes, but as she runs across a field, she stops with an unexpected realization: she’s not ready to leave everyone else behind. Armed with nothing but her wits and the bare bones of a plan, she goes back to the slaughter.
School shootings are horrific events that while not only happening in the US, are tragically at home in the US (2020 was the first year in a long time without at least one – thank you Covid!). Previous films of school shootings have almost always focused dramatically on those to be traumatized and / or what brought the shooters to it. The best and best known include Denis Villeneuve’s soul-destroying Polytechnique (2009), Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) and Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003). Dramas and documentaries have been the extent of their on-screen presence so far, but Run Hide Fight takes things in an entirely different direction by setting the premise for action thrills, over-the-top villains worth hating, and a hero worth cheering for.
Writer / director Kyle Rankin – Known for being the focus of the second season of Project Greenlight, which recorded the making of his film The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003), but is rightly known for the hilarious giant insect frenzy Infestation (2009) – shows an undeniable love for Die Schwer in the establishment and structure of Run Hide Fight. From the accuracy of the shooters upon their arrival, the control of communications and attempted misdirection in Act III, to the ineffectiveness of the authorities (the school security guard gets himself wet) and the physical abuse and injury thrown on Zoe’s body, the sequence of the script is known to action fans. And that’s not a criticism as Rankin uses the structure to add tension and tension while delivering some fist-pumping beats and beat-downs at the same time.
Run Hide Fight is considered a “right-wing movie” by some, but it’s actually surprisingly easy by conservative ideals. With only one small exception, there are no scenes in which the fabled “good guy with a gun” arrives to save the day with his own proudly carried firearm. There’s only a brief mention of God when a Sagittarius asks a college student where her savior is now, and there are no cameos from card-carrying dipshits like Dean Cain or Kevin Sorbo. That said, someone sarcastically mentions “Trigger Warning” a few times and someone is the cartoonistically poor lead shooter.
The foursome are like a bastardized version of The Breakfast Club – you see them as genius, geek, psycho, and leather-wearing technician – and neither Zoe nor the film have a real desire to give weight to their motives, which are voiced but quickly brushed aside will. The film is less interested in exploring what constitutes a killer on the street than in delivering an exciting watch. One of the shooters has been bullied and another hears voices, but their greatest common trait is indifference to lives that are not their own. One of them even refers to the victims as “things”. But it’s Tristan (Eli Brown) Who planned the shoot with precision and who is planning maximum slaughter that will be caught and carried on the shoulders of our online addiction? Far removed from subtle commentary on social media, news media and blind authority, he is the key to film, and Brown plays him great at dealing with students and the police alike. At no point does he sound like a teenager, however, as his self-proclamation as “agent of change, midwife of truth” shows. Because come on.
Forget high school, Tristan is straight out of a master class in Movie Bad Guys from the 80s with his heightened dialogue and antics. As serious as Run Hide Fight plays the events, it’s elements like Tristan that keep one foot firmly anchored in the world of action cinema. Given the situation and premise, numerous teens are still shot dead, but whether you view it as powerful or exploitative, it is hard to deny that it works within the confines of the genre tariff. You feel the horror and shock of the students at the barbarism of the riflemen, and while Rankin builds the tension on one result or another, he does so with sophisticated attitudes and craftsmanship. This is not fine art, just a suspenseful action film about an unlikely hero who finds the strength to do the right thing.
That message – realizing that sometimes you have to put others in front of you – does not belong to one or the other political ideology, and in a perfect world it would be the norm. Zoe embodies the idea, and May does a great job showing her alternation between self-doubt and confidence as she fights, outwits, and beats the shooters just because she’s there, it’s the right thing and hopefully she has the skills to do it. There are also minor exploits by others, and they are a reminder of the difference a person can make in times of need. A bigger issue is the choices each of us make when it comes down to it. Do we sit back and let the bad guys win, or do we knock the shit out of them and bleed them to death like the pathetic idiots that they are?
Run Hide Fight has its issues, including the motif that Zoe’s dead mother appears to her when she’s scared or stressed – and ultimately being the source of the title as she gradually encourages her daughter to run, hide and fight . It has to do with Zoe’s eventual growth and ability to move on without her mother, but it can be a little clunky at times. The logistics are also a bit suspicious as no one hears the gunshots in the cafeteria, but Tristan can hear them later when he’s in one of the classrooms. While they could get in the way of direct drama, they are by no means really harmful to an action film, which is ultimately all that is. There are comments here on Sagittarius and a system unprepared to deal with them, but the action / survival element is the priority driven by a compelling lead who is tough and tender and who is the driving force to the highest satisfactory conclusion of the film. If you like action without the fear of getting your hands dirty, this is it.
As an aside, Run Hide Fight is not a “conservative” film made by a right-wing filmmaker. It’s solid entertaining action / thriller that was unfortunate enough to be produced by a company that has closed its doors on potentially criminal management and been driven out by some right-wing buttons in hopes of breaking into Hollywood as everyone is there fun parties take place. But that’s all outside noise, and the film – like everyone else – deserves to be judged on its own merits.