The School-Shooting Movie That Stunned the Venice Film Festival Into Silence
“Run Hide Fight,” Kyle Rankin’s film about a school shooting, is at once high-drama action and poignant. It left this writer in a state of shock.
VENICE—It took two full hours to stop thinking about Kyle Rankin’s 109-minute masterful mindfuck called Run Hide Fight, named after the mantra kids are taught to remember in order to survive school shootings in America.
But the film is surprisingly not really about school shootings. It doesn’t even have an anti-gun slant, and instead opens with a scene of a teenage girl, in mourning over the loss of her mother, shooting a deer under her father’s delicate guidance.
The setup is risky. The exploitation of the epidemic of school shootings in the U.S. still feels far too raw to use as the context for an action-thriller. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, school shootings have dropped considerably, and perhaps this window in time is the only moment this film could be palatable. If this were released off the back of a major school shooting, it would look highly exploitative.
It captures the sheer horror of what it must be like for kids who go on active-shooter lockdown, complete with blanket lockdown orders that could actually herd kids into becoming sitting targets. The flaws of those systems being manipulated and outsmarted by a team of teenage assassins should make every school superintendent flinch. The killers use the lockdown guidelines they have grown up practicing as a how-to guide to carry off the massacre. And Rankin couples that with unprepared security officers and commando cops who make things worse, at first.
The film also perfectly encapsulates the ego and menace of the shooters. Rankin uses several tropes in his team of teen killers: the angry kid, the bullied child, the mentally ill teen, and the mad-as-hell teenage girl who seems like she’s just in it for fun.
Despite this shocking and at times very disturbing backdrop, the movie is actually about a family consumed by grief, and interracial teenage love. Mom has died of cancer and their only child, Zoe Hull (Isabel May), just can’t let her go. Dad, played by Thomas Jane, is a former special forces sharpshooter who can’t cope with an 18-year-old daughter on his own and has anger issues and a serious chip on his shoulder. Zoe has conversations with her mom who appears at various stages of her cancer throughout the film, which sometimes work well, but other times prove a distraction.
Zoe’s best friend is a Black student named Lewis Washington, played by Olly Sholotan, who’s ruined her lunch by asking her to the prom when it’s clear Zoe doesn’t want the relationship to veer that way. As the yearbook editor, Lewis ends up being chosen by the killers to livestream the whole thing on the school’s social media accounts. Once the shooting starts, Zoe and Lewis are separated, leading to predictable moments of tension and an equally predictable teenage kissing scene.
As the school shooting plays out, the action is fast and incredibly intense. The terror of those hiding kids and the horror of watching many being shot at point-blank range are hard to shake once the film ends. So are the scenes of bungling cops and the headline-hungry media on the scene, essentially telling the clever killers exactly what the cops are doing outside.
Without giving too much away, it is Zoe who channels her combat dad, and who will provide a new strong, smart action-figure-ready role model.
This film will easily trigger some and anger others. But overall, it ticks the boxes of a high-pulse action film that is disturbingly relevant and revealing.