If you read the reviews posted to Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll get a sense that the movie is lost in the sauce with nothing to show but a sophistic ambition to paint “Good guys with guns” as the answer to “Bad guys with guns.” While I can understand the rationale behind these observations, I think the reviewers missed the mark in more ways than one.
Now, Let me preface this by saying this is a high grade B movie. Ok? What I mean by that is that the production quality is high, but it has campy elements that make you scratch your head. If you’re on board with Ben and the gang all the way- you like it. If you think they suck butt- you hate it. However, if you’re there to be entertained, and maybe evaluate the movie on its merits, I think you’ll find something inside it that is deep and wholesome even if wrapped in a slow plot that has massive issues with the reaction of the adults.
Now, I will touch on points in the movie as a means to present my case, and as a result, there will be some spoilers, but I’ll do my best to avoid doing what some of the “top rated critics” did by just belching the plot without nuance and go into what I think is going on at a root level which actually is pretty damned good.
So, without further ado- my review of “Run. Hide. Fight.”
Recap of movie: There is a school shooting and a nearly 18 dealing with the trauma of losing her mom to cancer saves the day. That out of the way, lets hit some of the elements that either took me out of the movie, or made me laugh out loud with their silliness.
The beginning is slow. Now, for me, this isn’t a deal breaker. Again, I kinda like indie flicks and B movies, so breaking the formulaic entrees that Hollywood gives us actually whets my whistle some. The cliché we see with the wounded and broken teen trying to let go does get tiresome, but I think that’s because wounded and broken teens are so easy to produce. They’re massive bags of hormones with little experience in handling them. It’s an easy do. Here, though, the teen part is necessary, as is the awkward nature of interactions that are part of being a teen trying to move past the friend zone and into potential mating territory. The levity is early, and lost until later, but in it's own way, it works.
Her broken nature though, feels contrived, like it’s there to give her one more thing to overcome to show how tough she is. It feels unnecessary when she literally takes a bullet and keeps going- eventually beating her erstwhile attacker in honorable hand to hand combat. However, even here I think we find the answer if we view the movie not as a teenager overcoming four inept school shooters attempting an elaborate and stupid plan, but a story of overcoming the grief of loss by finding a reason to leave it behind.
Grief is a tricky subject to broach. How it gets portrayed, and how it gets addressed can at times fumble even the swiftest and most eloquent of minds. Mainly because each example of grief is unique. And here we have an example that is unique.
Zoe Hull is the daughter of a highly trained soldier who has obviously gone through some stuff- we get that from Mr. Hull early on, “I saw that look on men in my unit.” He too is clearly still healing from his experiences as well as the loss of his wife. His advantage over his daughter is experience and an ability to compartmentalize. Zoe probably hasn’t seen him cry because he does so in private, putting forward a strong exterior to help his daughter. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for him in this instance. Zoe is following the example she has- her dad- and not getting to the root of her problems which is an inability to let go.
Obviously, this creates conflict within Zoe that she has to work through during the course of the film, and this it feels is the thrust of the entire piece, if poorly executed. This conflict is shown rather well with Zoe's dialogs with her deceased mother. Within the movie, one of two things are happening. One, Zoe’s mom is literally a ghost speaking with her, guiding her through this transition by literally reaching from beyond to grave in one last act of motherly love to help heal the wounds left by her passing. OR two, Zoe knows deep down what she has to do, and her mother is an avatar for her subconscious trying to guide her through this rough time.
In either instance, the movie centers on Zoe’s healing by becoming the center of something and honoring her parents through her actions, thereby allowing her to move past the death of her mother, and let go as she realizes her mother lives within her.
And it's not like we have to reach very far to get to this conclusion, her mother says as much to her, and it’s obvious from the get go that this is the case. The jacket she wears isn’t some clichéd attempt to show her badassery, but to show how much she hurts. She needs her dad’s ability to compartmentalize, and uses the jacket as a totem to do just that. The jacket isn’t meant to display her martial spirit, but her wounded nature. When the jacket comes off, she has put her mother away, moved on, and healed in a way that she was unable to before. And where her jacket comes off is important- she covers her love interest with it to keep him warm. She transfers it's protective power to him because she no longer needs it.
Now, call me a cynic, but it’s rather interesting that all those top rated reviewers seemingly missed this obvious metaphor for her anguish, but they thought they were reviewing a pro-gun jerk fest, so I guess I can forgive them. It’s shallow, I know, but maybe they’ll learn to review from within the text at some point. Meh, whatever. Some of this did take me out of the film initially, but as I watched it, I began to realize what was going on (and this is being written after a single viewing, I’m sure I’ll pick up on the other subtleties after I watch it again).
All this framing in perspective with regards to the real center of the film, we can now take a look at the real bugger of the movie that makes it feel like it was written by a seventeen year old kid fantasizing about saving the world from evil homoerotic narcissistic goth types- damn… That was a mouthful.
So, right after our nefarious murderous teens make entry, my wife asked what I was thinking- where the hell are all the adults? This motif seems to feature in movies surrounding the heroic exploits of children and teens. The adults are conspicuously absent. Only in movies like “The Mighty Ducks” are the children being guided by adults on their way to growing up. Here, all the adults suck at their jobs in a way that is absolutely marvelous to behold.
The cafeteria worker in the kitchen heard everything- and called her husband? Are you kidding me? You can’t, like, call the office? The police? Pull the fire alarm? Something? And I was a high schooler at one point too, you know- there are adults in the lunchroom, even if only a few. They were there to break up potential altercations (those did happen sometimes) and generally keep an eye on things. Then there is the reactions of the police. The sheriff and his deputy were a sore spot- you’re in a freaking truck- drive through the field to make that damned turn, time is ticking guy.
And the office lady who didn’t do her damned job and put the school on lock down the moment she got wind that a dude with a gun was on campus. Fortunately, our scraggly haired haired arch nemesis points this fact out to us in amazingly unnecessary fashion. The cops don’t even really try to make entry in any reasonable fashion at first- and the Sheriff is instructing people to stay outside. They should be attempting entry to stop the events in progress, right?
This whole debacle from the perspective of the people in charge allows for the bad guys with guns to bunker their positions and set their plans in motion. Calling the police, locking down the school, and then directing law enforcement to the cafeteria (where the shooter told you he was) right now stops all of this in at most ten minutes. Swift action is necessary, not a cordon. The cops didn’t even try and get into the building to isolate and contain the bad guys- they let them run the whole damned show. This is asinine! Why aren't they doing something?!
All this to say that the setup for the whole scenario really sucked. Especially when you think of the fact that home-slice decided to live stream the whole damned thing for ratings. And all the shooting in the cafeteria had to have alerted someone- surely someone had to have heard the gunshots, right?
However, again, I need to take a step back and think about what the story is trying to tell me, to read between the lines and not just watch this on a surface level. Everything is being done for a reason- we have to assume this going in if we are to make heads or tails of the film from any perspective outside of “pro-gun masturbatory fantasy.” So, why did all these things happen as they did? Is this even realistic? Adults can’t screw the pooch this bad, can they?
I’m sorry to say that yes, yes they can. And yes, this, in its own shitty way, is entirely believable when you get down to brass tacks.
First off, the noise issue. Guns are loud, yes, and that loudness is amplified within an enclosed spaces. However, the sound is amplified within the enclosed spaces- and many times actually deadened to the point of nothing outside of those spaces. Ever been to an indoor range? Sure, those things are made to hold in the sound, but they don’t really do all that much to make that a reality. Cinder blocks are a good barrier to sound, and with the ambient noises of a classroom it is reasonable to assume that no one in a classroom would hear much if anything- except maybe Zoe, doors suck as a sound barrier in most cases and she was still in close proximity. But, you know, hand dryer.
So the entry of the van into the cafeteria and the shots fired within that space could go unnoticed. So, we’ll grant that. Even with the loudness of the initiation of the attack, pretty much no one is going to notice it. Except that stupid lunch lady. But even here, I think we can give her some shade.
There is a saying that I fully agree with that goes something like this, “Hero’s don’t rise to the occasion, they fall back on their highest level of training.” Now, lunch lady has probably just worked her nine to fives her whole life never giving any thought to what she’d do if things went belly up. Most people don’t. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that she asks her husband for advice- IE, she runs to her husband when she has a problem. So, that being said, we can see this lady, scared out of her ever loving mind to the point of mental shutdown calling her husband in the hope that he can solve the problem. She’s never contemplated solving the problem herself. Doesn’t even have the good sense to run away. She’s locked up tighter than nun in a whore house with no way to break out- until Zoe arrives followed closely by the deranged gunman.
So, yeah… I can see the lunch lady failing in rather epic fashion here, and yeah, it’s entirely believable. Way to go team making sheople instead of people.
The school principle and security officer respond in a way that I didn’t really expect, which is to say they go there to try and solve the situation. The principle tries to talk down the head guy, and well… It doesn’t work. In fact, the principle turns out to be the last guy who shoulda went in. Because he’s part of the problem from the perspective of the evil overlord. The security guard though- he should be able to bring something to the fight, right?
Sure- a freaking nightstick. And our evil overlord calls it out for us, “And they don’t even give him a gun.” Yeah… That’s a valid point, isn’t it. So an inept and scared security guard used to breaking up school fights goes headlong into a firefight with a nightstick- and pisses himself.
Yes… That happens. And looking at the example of the lunch lady, we can see why, and sadly, this too makes sense in it’s own, shitty way (Shatner commas- I love them).
Now the police response. They get there, start to make entry, stall at the office to ascertain the situation- and then the backpack bomb planted in the office explodes.
Well… That throws a wrench into the plans of the officers. Are there others? How many people are we talking about? What’s the level of organization? Is this a pro-team or is it really good amateur hour? Cops don’t know. This could get REALLY bad REALLY quick with way more casualties that would be acceptable if they keep going.
Anecdote time. Once in training we did a breach and clear of a building that the instructors at MOUT town had rigged. They told us to clear like we were trained to do- I tripped a flare three seconds into the clear that represented a rigged explosive. It happened so fast I cleared right past it before realizing that I was “dead.” It took them about fifteen minutes to rig the whole building. It doesn’t take much, and only a few such surprises can slow anyone down, no matter how dedicated they are to get inside. In those instances, beat cops are out of their league, and it’s time for SWAT.
So… Yeah… That cordon- especially when you see the bad guys live streaming the event- makes sense now. You have a school shooting/hostage situation instead of an active shooter. And an unknown number of potential other explosives within the building. And an unknown number of baddies roaming the halls. WE know how many there are, they don’t. The situation isn't fully understood, the killing has at least slowed down if not stopped for now. Time for negotiations. So this too gets a pass (even if it is ham handed).
This leaves us with Zoe. The daughter of a trained soldier. May not seem like much, but it’s obvious they’re close. And being a trained warrior myself- I may or may not have taught my kids how to move, shoot, and communicate for their nerf gun fights, and I may or may not have taught them some basic hand to hand combat stuff for… Well… I’m a paranoid father who knows the world will eat you alive if given the chance. And I love my kids, and would like them not to get eaten alive.
Working from that perspective- yeah, Zoe is going to know something, even if only a little. And what’s more- she has her dad as an example, as someone to live up to. Even if she doesn’t realize it- she has boots to fill, and as much as us parents don’t want to admit it we form our children through who we are just as much as by what we stress. So Zoe does, in some minor way, have her dad’s grit within her. She has, to a degree, been trained for this even if only tangentially through being a daughter to a warrior. Instinct and a drive to survive have tools to use to allow her to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Plus, spirit mom for critical guidance.
So, she is trained to resist being a victim. She is falling back on her highest level of training. And this allows us to suspend disbelief and follow her journey through the story. And her actions aren’t unrealistic. She doesn’t enter into honorable hand to hand combat with the boys and win. Oh no, not really. Never once does she do that on anything that we can call “Fair.”. She runs from them- because they have an advantage. They are, by their nature, bigger and stronger than her as evidenced with her one on one with the nut job brother of the chick she kills early on, plus she has a leg wound and they have guns. Facing another female, she has her work cut out for her and she overcomes. Facing a dude- she get’s hammered, and it’s only through the actions of her dad that she survives at all. The one guy she does best is only possible because he’s a coward that has slipped in oil and lost his nerve (meaning his shotgun). She has the audacity to bring a fire extinguisher to a fist fight with an unarmed coward.
Man… How inconsiderate can she be?
Rather than straight brute force, she uses her whits to stay alive, and throw wrenches in the badguys plans- she gets within their OODA loop and defeats them one at a time in detail (with the ballistic intervention of her dad in one instance). And all this after guiding the other students in their classrooms on lockdown out of the building. She doesn’t engage until late in the game, and even then, she works more to thwart the plans than kill the badguys. She saves lives more than she takes them.
As to the actions of the badguys- are those realistic? I have to admit- yes. Yes they are. I truly believe most shooters do so for one of the four reasons provided. One, they feel trod upon. Two, they feel that the system has left them behind. Three, they want notoriety. Four, they have undiagnosed and therefore un-helped mental illness. All of these were prevalent within the badguys, with the only outlier being goth chick who I think was in it for the violence and her boyfriend. So, five reason- some people just want to see the world burn. So the rational they give fits within the context of what I believe we’ve seen so far. This just adds a level of “one-upsmanship” taken to the eleventh degree.
As to actual actions on objective- the bombs don’t go really big boom, but fiery not so bad boom as I’d expect from a bunch of kids. This, of course, is still sufficient for their purposes, so fits in with not only their potential capabilities, but also their ability to acquire materials and fabricate on a limited budget. The full-auto WWII German SMG is a mystery to me- and I’d like to know their supplier on that one. I have no idea where they’d get that piece from. But the shotgun and pistol- those could easily have come from one of their parents. I figured the reviewers who gave shit reviews to attack the motives of the film would have eaten that up…
Again- surface read. Come on guys- at least try.
So what does this leave us with in the end? A story, about a girl, trying to get past the grief of losing her mom being thrust into a terrible situation wherein she has the option to leave- she escapes at first- but goes BACK into the fray and possible certain doom. She illustrates honor, integrity, grit, determination, actualization, compassion, and empowerment that I as a father hope my daughters will one day exemplify. She doesn’t bitch about the situation- she enacts her will on the situation and doesn’t quit until the last shot is fired. Zoe Hull is a hero in every sense of the word, and the story revolves around her heroism while battling through depression from the loss of her mother and realizing what really matters to her in the end.
I’m a guy that doesn’t cry- and there were a couple points where I teared up. If you can- give it a watch. Just realize there is more going on within the movie than girl kills baddies. This is not a Die Hard knock off, nor is it a masturbatory fantasy for pro-gun enthusiasts. Only one good guy with a gun does anything, and a strong empowered young woman does all the heavy lifting in a realistic way through shear force of will and the desire to do the right thing.
I, Battle Specter, give this movie an 8.5 out of 10 as a result. This movie is cerebral for those willing to actually look at the movie as more than a right wing propagandist film. It’s intense, it tells a story, and it sheds light on how we as people can grow more than it discusses school shootings or the reasons they happen.