Conservatives and culture are like old men and the weather: everybody’s always complaining, but nobody ever does anything about it. And when someone does decide to do something, suddenly there are those coming out of the woodwork to tell them what they should have done differently.
While one might be tempted to muse about whether now is a propitious time to open a new front in the culture wars, that is exactly what Run, Hide, Fight — a new film written and directed by Kyle Rankin — has turned into. Its January 14 premiere on the Daily Wire gained far more attention than did its screening last September at the Venice Film Festival, precisely because it has since become associated with Ben Shapiro.
As to the movie itself, which should by all rights be the focus of attention, Zoe (Isabel May) is a high school senior whom we see shooting a very respectable buck in the opening scene under the watchful eye of her father, Todd (Thomas Jane). The setup is gradual, but we gather that the absence of a mother in the Hull household has something to do with tensions between dad and daughter. Her buddy Lewis (Olly Sholotan) picks her up to get to class before the opening bell, and Zoe is soon caught up in a school shooting and hostage situation, with luck initially putting her out of the action. With skills absorbed from her ex-military father and a little helpful inner dialogue with her deceased mom, she runs, then hides, then fights.
The arrival of the disgruntled teens with their guns and explosives is banal in an Arendt-esque sort of way, punctuated by almost disinterested brutality. But the bulk of the movie really is exciting once the magnetic Isabel May grabs the situation by the throat, making you completely forget you just paid Ben Shapiro a $14 one-month subscription fee to the Daily Wire for the privilege of seeing what all the fuss is about. And you find yourself rooting for May in other ways — like hoping she won’t get blacklisted for appearing on Shapiro’s nascent streaming service.
The revolution at the high school is, of course, both televised and live-streamed. Tristan, the high-school mastermind behind the plot (well-played by Eli Brown), understands that it’s not real unless it’s on social media, and since Lewis is the yearbook geek with the school’s account, he gets to play Periscope for the attention-seeking bad guys. What was it we recently read — that the No. 1 aspiration of Chinese kids is to be an astronaut and the No. 1 goal of American kids is to be a YouTube star? At one point, Tristan points out to the hostage-negotiating local sheriff that the internet has made everyone into judge and jury, creating a job opening for him — executioner.
Teachers and staff are shown to be a little lame at first, then woodenly compliant with lockdown rules that prove to be counterproductive, then caringly courageous. A student is asked if she believes in God, and even though it might mean a slash or a bullet, she answers yes. One shooter has second thoughts. Zoe’s Dad’s skills end up coming in handy in more ways than one. Her own heroics are surprisingly plausible.
All in all, director Rankin has a knack for capturing the situation’s complexity with a clear-eyed lens. The whole thing has a bit of a Dean Koontz feel to it, with characters making choices under pressure that show the possibilities, for both good and ill, that were inside them all along. It is an enjoyable and even thoughtful movie of the sort that can keep one happily occupied on a quiet evening at home.
There have been predictable takedowns because of the movie’s association with Shapiro (even though he had nothing to do with its conception or creation), so new Daily Wire subscribers get an email asking them to go to Rotten Tomatoes and give it five stars, which, given the high audience rating on that site, many apparently did. And the Daily Beast did a numbingly deep dive into what the film’s additional second assistant director (among other luminaries) had to say about its unsavory provenance — one really wants a copy of the invective lexicon the author seems to have at his elbow. The internet can occasionally be lovely, however: keen eyes took note that the same Daily Beast had heaped praise on this very film when it was screened at the Venice Film Festival, prior to it being sullied by Shapiro’s acquisition.
Shapiro has set his sights on getting into the entertainment business for some time. His original plan was to develop films and television series in-house for release on the Daily Wire. His eventual goal is to develop a Starz-like subscription service, aiming to fill a niche for traditional viewers fed up with the one-sided social and political preoccupations of today’s entertainment industry. But Run, Hide, Fight was a film looking for a buyer, and it met Shapiro’s criteria, meaning his own projects didn’t need to reach completion for him to get started. Given the number of people who just want to make movies, not a few of whom reportedly aren’t particularly wedded to leftist excess, Shapiro may have an easier time filling his dance card than one might suppose. That is, as long as he can put together a reliable-paying outlet for good work.
Politics is downstream from culture, as Andrew Breitbart famously opined. With the American Right having recently lost its hold on political power for the near future, sensible Americans are discovering it was the only real power they’ve had for quite some time — and that it isn’t enough. Shapiro is trying to get into the cultural power game, and that’s a welcome step on the road back.