“Run Hide Fight” shouldn’t exist in today’s marketplace.
The gritty actioner follows a teen who, caught in the middle of a school shooting, does the unthinkable.
She fights back.
The very premise sent film scribes into full pearl-clutching mode. In a way, that’s understandable. School shootings are part of our nightmarish “new normal.” Should they be exploited for entertainment? Here’s a better question? Two, actually.
Why should select topics be off the table for artists? Is there only one way to tackle sensitive material?
“Run Hide Fight” isn’t making any grand statements, and it walks a very thin exploitative tightrope. It’s also rigorously engaging, with a strong lead performance and a script which teases out bigger questions without getting on a soapbox.
Isabel May shines as Zoe Hull, a sullen teen processing the recent loss of her mother (Radha Mitchell, “Rogue”). Her father (Thomas Jane) has taught her to be self-sufficient, witness the the film’s opening scene where she takes down a deer with one shot and finishes the job on her own terms.
She’s her father’s daughter, but he can’t help her process the pain of losing a parent.
That back story matters when Zoe arrives at school on Prank Day, alongside her bestie, Lewis (Olly Sholotan, great in a small but pivotal role). A small group of students have other, more deadly, plans for the day.
Writer/director Kyle Rankin (“The Battle of Shaker Heights”) builds the tension up early, using our knowledge of existing tragedies and film tropes. The quick, bold strokes of teen life land with authority, giving the eventual violence the necessary grounding.
And oh, is “Run Hide Fight” violent. Several of the killings are as blunt as possible, but not in a garish horror movie manner. We’re meant to feel like we’re in that building, desperate for escape or at least an explanation for the unfolding evil.
Life, and the film, don’t offer easy answers.
Zoe’s transformation from sullen to soldier is slow and believable by genre standards. All the while we get to know the killers holding the school hostage. Tristan (Eli Brown) is the brains behind the attack, and he looks and sounds like Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Brown brings villainous charisma to the role, which makes his social media obsession pop. If there’s one recurring theme behind “Run Hide Fight” it’s the teenage desire for clicks and “likes.”
— Thomas Jane (@ThomasJane) December 17, 2019
Some of Rankin’s creative choices don’t pay off. The recurring presence of Zoe’s mom, for example, doesn’t mesh with the film’s tone. Nor does a brief explainer behind one of the killer’s motivations. That sequence is the film’s weakest link, stopping the narrative momentum.
Most of the cast members aren’t well known to film fans, but the presence of pros like Jane, Barbara Crampton and Treat Williams gives the film a respectable gloss above and beyond the precise storytelling.
FAST FACT: The filmmakers behind “Run Hide Fight” say they received some interest in the project from mainstream movie studios but that attention evaporated after the 2018 Parkland High School massacre.
The urge to turn “Run Hide Fight” into a message movie must have been considerable. Rankin resists that temptation, even refusing to cheap shot the media types covering the melee.
If there is a message here it’s an honest, unblinking one. Some children are broken as they near adulthood, a tragic lesson we’ve learned from real-life headlines.
The thriller ends with a blast of surprising restraint followed by a limp action movie cliche. Yet for most of its running time “Run Hide Fight” eschews the easy label applied prior to its release date – it’s “Die Hard” but at a school shooting.
Not even close.
The gravity of the situation we’re forced to endure steers the film clear of ’80s action movie bromides. Zoe isn’t a wisecracking heroine in the John McLane mold. She’s broken, but with the strength a loving family can offer, even one which suffered a grave loss.
HiT or Miss: “Run Hide Fight” isn’t for everyone given the incendiary subject matter. Those willing to watch a sly tweak to the vigilante genre are in for a treat.
Editor’s Note: This review reflects the film’s final edit.