Willfully problematic, but not ineffective or uninteresting, this is at once a bit of a muddle in addressing the issues of American school shootings and unabashed fantasy in the way this one plays out. To be fair, slasher movies have long since co-opted the very real, disturbing subject of serial murder for simplistic, almost ‘fun’ horror – but, somehow, doing the same for a school shooter feels like a step over the line. And then staging it all as a teen movie riff on Die Hard is pushing buttons, with military-jacketed, low-profile Zoe Hull (Isabel May) as John McClane and posturing, speechifying-to-the-livestream psycho Tristan Voy (Eli Brown) only wishing he were Hans Gruber. There’s a suggestion that, as with Gruber, Tristan is only using a massacre as a cover for a regular crime (his master plan depends on the authorities implementing the measures they have set as policy and he has an exit strategy) but that’s a thread the film doesn’t do much with. And quite a bit of Zoe’s heroism is prompted by a desire to get out of the embarrassment of being asked to prom by her devoted best bud and handy hostage-to-be Lewis (Olly Sholotan)
Writer-director Kyle Rankin, of such likeable pieces as Night of the Living Deb and Infestation, fills this one out with slightly too much talk – Zoe has chats with her inspirational late mother (Radha Mitchell) and a late-film long session with the most feeble of the killers (Cyrus Arnold) – but manages the suspense expertly and turns away from the sleaziest moments, as when Tristan forces his Spanish teacher (Cindy Vela) to take her blouse off to save a class of kids he intends to blow up anyway. It’s on the fence about some issues – the whining villain complains about how difficult every stage of planning and implementing this massacre was except for getting the guns, which was ridiculously easy … but, with Zoe’s sniper Dad (Thomas Jane) playing the imaginary figure of good guy with a gun and Zoe getting her first deer kill before breakfast on the big day, any criticism of gun culture is pretty muted.
Treat Williams is the Sheriff who gets the Reginald VelJohnson gig, and the always-welcome Barbara Crampton is a teacher. Corin Nemec, who played a definitive misfit kid who goes all-out Evil in the original miniseries of The Stand, has a bit as a deputy. The other killers are similarly conflations of the types of folks who do things like this with the kind of stock characters found in action movies – a hulking thug with a gun (Britton Sear) who hears voices and refers to other people as ‘things’ and a leather-jacketed mean girl (Catherine Davis) who’s a whizz at cutting cables but no match for our girl Zoe. Like any regular Die Hard clone, it stages a couple of solid action scenes in unusual locales – a greased slope that trips everyone up, a staff room filled with balloons as a student prank – but still finds time to crawl around ventilation ducts and have the heroine limp gamely from punch-up to punch-up.