I will let others get involved if they want with the genesis of this movie. I don’t care where it came from, I only know that it is a terrifically tense thriller that seems appropriate for the times. Inevitably it will be compared to “Die Hard”, but that’s OK because the hero in the movie is a lot like John McClane. She is reluctant but resolved. She pushes herself and does so while recognizing the punishment she has to go through. There is an emotional epiphany for her that is prompted by her circumstances but needed to be arrived at regardless of the trigger. Zoe Hull may not have the wise cracking persona of Lt. McClane, but she does have the spirit of defiance and the recognition that even though the people she is trying to protect are not all her favorites, they deserve to have someone on their side.
The scenario is simple, which is one of the reasons the story works. A school shooting has started and depressed senior Zoe is caught in the middle of the events. Isabel May plays Zoe, a girl who is in denial of how much her grief at the loss of her mother to cancer recently, is poisoning. her life. The relationship she has with her father, a gruff but loving Thomas Jane, is being tested by her recalcitrance. He has tried to teach her basic skills, including hunting, which might be appropriate for a girl growing up in a farming community in Indiana. Her best friend Lewis, has deeper feelings toward her but she puts up a defensive wall that makes warmth difficult. There are teachers concerned enough to make an effort to reach out to her, but they too are rebuffed. It is the sudden striking act of violence that begins to awaken her to what she may be losing out on.
The movie is not for the faint of heart. It opens with a scene that features hunting and the reality of that activity is not really minimized. Some might question it’s inclusion but it is needed to show Zoe is capable of taking a violent action herself, and it also sets up a payoff that we will see coming later on. The takeover of the school cafeteria and the ensuing execution of students is even more brutal. It is not glamorized or played just for gore. The four perpetrators are shown to be merciless and indiscriminate in their dealing out instant death. In older style movies, some measure of hesitation might be shown by the gang of misanthropes, but here it is casual without consideration of consequences or emotions. The lack of character background for the victims is mostly a function of story efficiency rather than weak writing. This is not a disaster film where we are hanging on the edge of our seats praying for characters we have come to love. Instead we are shown more about the culture than the individuals, because these school shooters are millennial bumps with social media as their primary teacher.
The leader of this troop of monsters is Tristan Voy, a school misfit played by Eli Brown. He certainly does not have the charisma of Hans Gruber, but in these circumstances, he does stand out as a villain worth of our hate. Ultimately, the satisfaction we derive from having a revenge fueled action picture like this, is proportionate to the degree of loathing we have for the main antagonist. Tristan’s casual indifference to the emotions of his classmates, along with the capricious decisions about when and who to kill are probably enough to justify our eventual reactions. He is however shown to be a sociopath in a couple of other ways, including the humiliation of the principal, the Spanish teacher and the security guard. His manipulation of the other three attackers is also going to give us some reasons to loath him. Social media fame fuels his narcistic ego, but it also makes the community of viewers accomplices to the horror that we are witnessing.
The title of the film actually comes from the simple training that students are given in real classrooms today. Because an active shooter incident is such a noticeable event, despite it’s remote possibility, schools now require student training. My last three years in the classroom required an annual lockdown exercise, that included the paraphrase of directions, first run if you can, second hide if needed, and finally fight if you must. It is the transition from running to fighting that forms the story arc for Zoe. She has an internal monologue with her Mother, and Mom gives her the advice and encouragement she already knows she needs to follow. Zoe’s acts of heroism and resistance, undermine Tristan’s goals, not just the plan. So while he and Zoe do not share the repartee that John McClane and Hans Gruber did, we can see why she would be such an annoyance to him.
The nature of the training and the procedures become a tool for the shooters. School administrations are tied up in policies. Teachers are reluctant to change from the established procedure, even when an alternative is called for, and of course students are responding emotionally to what is happening to them. Lewis does not become a pivotal player because of his actions, but rather his social media. Zoe rediscovers her empathy and that helps her manage a problem and turn it into a tool to her benefit. The climax of the picture does involve some of the movie make believe that all such stories require. Dad’s reemergence into the story, and Zoe’s suddenly strong peripheral vision are shortcuts to the end, but the intervening tension has been more than sufficient to forgive some of that.
The movie does have things to say about our culture and the schools. The police do not come in for the criticism they might deserve after the incident a couple of years ago in Florida. The police chief played by veteran actor Treat Williams, is a sympathetic character who hates being forced to operate in the conditions that are presented, but he does manage to find a way to adapt. The news media also gets a bit of a shellacking for the emphasis on the sensational that drives their coverage. So this is another beat lifted from “Die Hard” which is moderated a bit but still relevant.
In summary, this is a violent action thriller that takes pride in the difference one person can make. It understands the ambivalence many students have to their high school experience, but also how important some of those experiences can be in building us as people. Best of all, it provides the action and emotion beats that a thriller like this needs to keep an audience glued to the seat. I really liked it.