Movie Review (GFF): ‘Run Hide Fight’ is Extremely Messy and Tone Deaf
Director: Kyle Rankin
Writers: Kyle Rankin
Stars: Thomas Jane, Radha Mitchell, Isabel May
Synopsis: A high school student uses her wits and survival skills to stay alive and protect herself and her classmates in an active shooter situation.
As elevator pitches go, “Die Hard Meets Columbine” is pretty good, albeit extremely ill-advised. Although the fact of school shootings in America lends itself well to the concept of a survival actioner, it’s also important to remember that – unlike a group of German supervillains overthrowing Nakatomi Plaza and taking hostages – there is real world grounding involved; so many lives have been lost to events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech that to make a movie out of it requires a deft, subtle touch. Unfortunately, Kyle Ritten’s Run Hide Fight is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
High School senior Zoe (Isabel May) is troubled. She’s recently lost her mother Jennifer (Radha Mitchell, who either needed to pay off a mortgage or else owed Ritten a serious favor) to cancer. She is aloof and angsty, as well as unable to talk about how she feels. She shares these traits with her dad Todd (Thomas Jane, similarly wasted in a nothing role) who is a hunter and, although it’s never strictly said, probably a survivalist. Both are reeling from the loss and trying to find a way past it. For Zoe, this might be in the form of the imaginary mother she sees frequently, who dispenses weak pop psychology at some stages and at others utterly simplistic logic, all while holding a coffee cup ostensibly meant to communicate the whole Suburban Mom thing, even as the bloodbath begins. (There’s also a cringeworthy motif which gives the movie its name, where Jennifer pops up at random intervals to advise her daughter to run, hide, or fight where appropriate).
Zoe and her best friend Lewis (Olly Sholotan) attend school on Senior Prank Day. This is an interesting yet contrived idea which excuses many of the events which take place later (students assume the gunshots are simply part of a prank and it’s probably for this reason the school doesn’t immediately evacuate at the first sign of trouble, although driving a white van directly through the wall of the cafeteria should probably be seen as several steps too far). Lewis – for reasons that are 100% plot motivated – is secretly in love with Zoe and plans to ask her to the Prom. Zoe isn’t ready for all that yet though. She excuses herself to the bathroom to escape Lewis’ moony request, and while she’s there things take a turn for the worst.
Tristan (Eli Brown, playing a teenager but looking more like a disaffected 30 something and chewing as much scenery as possible) and his three gun-toting friends take over the school cafeteria, holding the students hostage and forcing them to film his dull invective for their Instagrams and Facebooks and what-have-you. Tristan’s manifesto is unclear; something about how social media has rotted this generation’s brains. It doesn’t entirely matter why he’s there because Ritten seemingly couldn’t care less. Tristan and his cohort are plot foil, a reason for Zoe to shake off the malaise of her grief and spring into action.
This leads to the first overtly Die Hard moment as Zoe climbs through the bathroom vents a la John McClane. She escapes the school and makes it a few yards away before deciding she has to save the others and heads back in. Over the course of the next 90 mins, Zoe turns from sullen high school teenager to blood-stained badass as she leads the charge against the shooters and single-handedly saves the day.
The real problem with Run Hide Fight lies in its inability to nuance the narrative it’s telling. Tristan presents as a charismatic nihilist with a penchant for knives, his girlfriend Anna (Catherine Davis) is grungy and disenfranchised like many girls of her age and generation, Chris (Britton Sear) hears voices and that’s about it, and Kip (Cyrus Arnold) is a bullied kid who was once pantsed in front of the whole school and whose sheer embarrassment has somehow engendered this murderous streak. The motivations are gossamer thin and fall apart under the most rudimentary of scrutiny. Kip didn’t think about moving school? His first thought was picking up a gun and shooting everyone? Chris clearly suffers from mental illness, was no one aware of this? How can Tristan trust him when the voices make him a total liability? Is Anna doing all this just because she’s in love with Tristan? Love can do a lot of things, but her whole Harley Quinn vibe is unrealistic at best and comical at worst.
It’s hard to take the shooters seriously when it’s hard to understand what has propelled them to this. Even worse is when Tristan develops into a typical megalomaniac on a power trip (he forces the pretty Spanish teacher, Mrs Nunez, to strip because she had the temerity to make him horny in class apparently), further muddying the water as to what his exact intentions are. There is some plot hook about bombs being set off, but it’s not exactly clear what the endgame is here.
As mentioned, it’s hardly the point. The point is for Zoe to overcome her grief by mowing down the shooters, somehow. There is no “message” behind Run Hide Fight. There is no salient point to make about school shootings, why they happen, or what effect this is all having on American society. In fact, it tastelessly glorifies the “good guy with a gun” argument without really diving any deeper.
Die Hard is considered one of the best action movies of all time because alongside its trashy, gimmicky fun is the implication of not taking it too seriously. Consider the ridiculous moments of John McTiernan’s 1988 classic: Johnson and Johnson, no relation; ho ho ho, now I have a gun; Argyle; “come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs”; the idea of John McClane being this curmudgeonly cop in the wrong place at the wrong time, all of that serves as reminder that you’re watching a fun action movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. By posting his movie in a school shooting, utilizing none of the humor (thank God) that Die Hard offered, and even worse refusing to offer more than the most basic of explanations for the set-up, Ritten has made a tone-deaf movie using one of the worst epidemics in American history as the backdrop. If you’re looking for a more balanced, introspective take on school shootings, you would be much better with Gus Van Sant’s Elephant.