Review: ‘Run With the Hunted,’ starring Michael Carmen Pitt, Ron Perlman, Dree Hemingway, Mitchell Paulsen, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sam Quartin and Kylie Rogers

June 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Michael Carmen Pitt and Dree Hemingway in “Run With the Hunted” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Run With the Hunted”

Directed by John Swab

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the crime drama “Run With the Hunted” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) portraying the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A 13-year-old boy runs away from home after killing a man, and he grows up to lead his own group of runaway lawbreakers.

Culture Audience: “Run With the Hunted” will appeal primarily to people who like emotionally dark movies about people haunted by their past, but the film fails to deliver a well-written, well-paced story.

Kylie Rogers and Mitchell Paulsen in “Run With the Hunted” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Much like the hoodlums in the crime drama “Run With the Hunted,” the movie wastes a lot of potential to have a better purpose in existing and instead wallows in self-indulgence and excessive violence. Written and directed by John Swab, “Run With the Hunted” benefits from solid acting from most of the cast. However, the movie ruins a compelling story idea with nonsensical scenes and uneven pacing.

“Run With the Hunted” (which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city) has an intriguing but dark concept of a boy who runs away from home after murdering a man and who grows up to become an adult leader of a gang of lawbreaking children. The first two-thirds of the film are told from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy named Oscar Grey (played by Mitchell Paulsen), who lives in a very rural area with his mother Josephine (played by Mykle McCoslin), his father Augustus (played by William Forsythe) and his sister Lollie (played by Tatum Stiles).

Josephine, nicknamed Jo, is a nurturing and loving person, while Augustus is stern and judgmental. In the beginning of the movie, Augustus is seen asking Oscar if he listened to the sermon that day while they are both standing by a small pond. Even although Augustus and his family are apparently churchgoing people, apparently Augustus doesn’t believe in being charitable to neighbors, because he scolds Josephine for wanting to give their dinner leftovers to a neighbor family who’s financially struggling.

When Josephine asks Oscar to take the dinner plate over to the neighbors’ place, Augustus warns Oscar: “I don’t want you to catch whatever virus lingers in that house.” The neighbors are the Robbins family, consisting of a drunk and mean-spirited father named Persey (played by Brad Carter) and his kids Amos (played by Evan Assante) and Loux (played by Madilyn Kellam), who are around the same age as Oscar. The children’s mother isn’t in the home, and it’s implied that she’s dead.

It’s clear from the first few minutes of Oscar being in the house that Persey is violent and abusive. Not even Oscar escapes from Persey’s physical aggression and shouting. Persey rudely refuses Oscar’s dinner and orders him to leave the Robbins’ run-down and messy house. Persey growls to Oscar: “I want you to tell that daddy of yours that I don’t need your mother’s backhanded charity. Take it back. Get the fuck out of my house!”

In a later conversation that Oscar and Loux have by themselves while outside in a field, Loux tells Oscar that she wants to escape from her home, but she can’t. It’s implied, but not shown in detail, that Persey has been sexually abusing her, since there’s a creepy scene where Percey makes Loux sit on his lap, strokes her hair and tells her that Loux that reminds him of her mother.

One night, while Percey is passed out drunk on his living room couch, Oscar sneaks into the house, takes a fire poker from a lit fireplace, and stabs Percey to death. The gory details are shown later in the movie as a flashback. The next thing you know, Oscar is about 100 miles away in a city that’s big enough for him to hide for a while but not so big where the city has a large police department. (“Run With the Hunted” was actually filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma.)

While he’s homeless and alone in the city, Oscar is picked up for violating curfew. Since he has no identification and presumably won’t tell the authorities who he is, Oscar spends the night locked up by himself in an adult jail cell. While Oscar is sitting in jail, a police officer on duty at the station named Jim Flannery (played by Slaine) gets a faxed alert that Oscar Grey is wanted for murder.

Even though the alert has a clear photo of Oscar, Flannery stupidly assumes that the kid locked up in the jail cell couldn’t be the same boy, because he thinks a boy who lives in that rural area wouldn’t have the means or intelligence to travel 100 miles away by himself. He also comments to a desk-clerk colleague named Keryn (played by Renée Willett) that the boy who’s in the jail cell doesn’t look like a murderer. Keryn cynically agrees that all these delinquent kids start to look alike. Therefore, Oscar is let back out onto the streets.

This is a badly written part of the movie, because even if Flannery wanted to assume that Oscar wasn’t the same boy who was wanted for murder, an obvious underage runaway like Oscar would not be let back out on the streets so quickly by police, since child-protective services would be called. And people watching the movie won’t get over the fact that the photo of Oscar in the alert looks exactly like him.

The only purpose of this gaping plot hole is to establish that Flannery (who’s in the latter third of the story too) is a dumb, corrupt cop. This plot hole is also a set-up so that Oscar is free to be on the streets when he has a fateful meeting with another street kid named Peaches (played by Kylie Rogers), who takes a liking to Oscar. She shows him the abandoned, remote warehouse where she and other kids around their age hang out and get training to become thieving criminals. Their leader is a scruffy middle-aged loser named Sway (played by Mark Boone Junior), whose real name is Neville.

Sway is excited to have a new recruit join their ranks. He tells his boss Birdie (played by Ron Perlman) while Birdie is at beauty salon getting a pedicure. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds. This slightly comical scene is also supposed to establish that Birdie is well-connected to corrupt politicians, since he’s meeting with a congressman (played by Darryl Cox) at the salon.

Peaches and Oscar start to have a teen romance (she’s his first kiss), and he confesses to her that he’s wanted to murder, but that he killed an abusive man to save his kids from the abuse. Oscar doesn’t go into details by telling Peaches the last name of the family involved, but Peaches understands.

Peaches tells Oscar: “Someday, Loux will find you. For now, you have me. I believe fate brought us together.” Peaches makes it clear that she wants Oscar all to herself, and she tells him to promise that he will never leave her.

And there’s something else about Peaches: Her father is Birdie. In one scene, he has a father-daughter talk with her in his car while she’s eating an ice cream cone. Birdie gives this advice to Peaches: “You’ve got to grab what you want, because no one is going to give it to you.”

Meanwhile, Sway is having second thoughts about having Oscar in his gang of juvenile delinquents and he wants to kick Oscar out of the group. The word gets back to Birdie, who wants to keep Oscar in the group, especially since Oscar and Peaches have started dating each other. How far will Sway go in defying Birdie’s orders? That question is answered in the movie.

When the movie flashes forward 15 years later, it’s shown that Oscar (played by Michael Carmen Pitt) and Peaches (played by Dree Hemingway) are still together. Peaches works as a stripper, and she and Oscar have a very co-dependent relationship where she’s still very needy.

However, Birdie and Peaches have kind of a sleazy father-daughter dynamic that looks borderline incestual. There’s a scene Birdie tells Peaches sits on his lap and she sort of acts like she’s his girlfriend by the way she hugs and kisses him. (Peaches’ mother, just like Loux’s mother, is nowhere in sight.)

The dumbest scene in “Run With the Hunted” is one that has absolutely no bearing on the overall story. It’s 15 years after Oscar has committed the murder, and he’s now tutoring a gang of four teenage hoodlums to commit armed robbery. They rob a grocery store and hold everyone hostage. And not surprisingly, one of the customers gets shot. (This isn’t a spoiler. It’s in the movie’s trailer.)

What’s incredibly moronic about the scene is that Oscar and his gang do nothing to disguise themselves when they commit the robbery. Even if there’s the unlikely possibility that the store doesn’t have surveillance cameras, there were several hostages as eyewitnesses. And a grocery store, compared to a bank or jewelry store, isn’t exactly the best place to get a large haul of money to steal. Most grocery stores keep a limited amount of cash in their registers, so it’s no surprise that Oscar and his gang don’t end up with a lot of money from the robbery.

What’s also laughable about this badly written part of the movie is that Oscar and his four teenage followers (two who are white, two who are black) all live together in the same house, which is not a remote house but a place on a suburban-looking neighborhood street. Therefore, it’s obvious that this motley group would stick out in any neighborhood and would be easy to identify after the robbery.

Oscar is supposed to be 28 in this part of the story, but Pitt (the actor playing the adult Oscar) looks like he’s closer to 38. Any respectable neighbor would think, “Why is a man that age living with underage teenage boys who aren’t related to him? Who and where are these kids’ parents?” That living arrangement alone would be enough to attract attention to Oscar, who’s supposed to be an “underground” criminal.

Wherever this city is that Oscar ran away to and now lives, the city must have the dumbest law enforcement not to catch on to the fact that there’s a coordinated gang of young criminals who are committing a lot of the thefts (including pickpocketing) right out in the open on the streets and in stores where there should be surveillance cameras. The city is obviously not isolated enough for these kids to be able to stay in hiding for long.

And just as Peaches predicted years before, an adult Loux (played by Sam Quartin) does come looking for Oscar. (Again, this is not a spoiler, since the movie’s trailer already revealed this part of the story.) Loux ends up in the same city and gets a job working for a private investigator named Lester Rineau (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a widower who might or might not be helpful to Loux’s stealthy investigation into Oscar’s childhood disappearance.

As a crime thriller, “Run With the Hunted” is a lot duller than it should have been, with much of the pacing dragged down by the relationship problems of the adult Oscar and Peaches, who have grown up to be very miserable human beings. And after Loux comes to town, the plot basically goes down the toilet, in terms of how people in the story react to her investigation.

One of the best things about “Run With the Hunted” is the talented performance by Paulsen as the young Oscar. He gives a completely credible and effective depiction of a kid who’s caught up in circumstances that are way over his head. The casting of Paulsen in this movie was definitely a very good choice.

Pitt and Perlman have been typecast (Pitt often plays troubled souls, Perlman often plays villains), so there’s not much of an acting stretch for them in this movie. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles. The few women in this movie aren’t given much to do except react to whatever the men are doing.

“Run With the Hunted” has the expected violence and foul language, but sensitive viewers should be warned that the film has violence that usually isn’t seen in crime dramas—scenes of underage kids killing other people. It’s a disturbing aspect of “Run With the Hunted” that comes across as exploitative for the sake of appearing provocative and “edgy.” It’s also an example of how “Run With the Hunted” is more concerned with having violent scenes instead of having a coherent and plausible story.

Vertical Entertainment released “Run With the Hunted” on digital and VOD on June 26, 2020.