You Can’t Run Forever: Is the Movie Rooted in Reality?

In ‘You Can’t Run Forever’, Miranda Cooper (Isabelle Anaya), an anxiety-ridden young girl with a dark past gets chased through the woods by a sociopathic serial killer (J.K. Simmons) as he chooses her as his next victim. Wade, Miranda’s hunter, is a college professor who, after learning of his wife’s infidelity, is on an uncontrollable murderous rampage leaving death in his wake. During the long harrowing hunt through the forest, Miranda has to find the strength within herself to survive while also fending off the wily and psychotic nature of her tracker.

Directed by Michelle Schumacher, the tense thriller, which was originally titled ‘The Woods,’ takes a long winding trip through the deep forested mountains with its desperate heroine scrambling for help. Dark and filled with existential dread, ‘You Can’t Run Forever’ is another collaboration between the director and her real-life partner, J.K. Simmons, for a feature film. This is her first attempt at directing him in a macabre tale where he plays a brutal killer on the loose. As such, the inspirations behind the story come into sharp focus, prompting many to raise questions about whether or not it is based on true events.

You Can’t Run Forever Explores the Psyche of a Serial Killer

Michelle Schumacher’s ‘You Can’t Run Forever,’ while panic-inducing at times, is a fictional narrative. Written by Carolyn Carpenter and Schumacher herself, the story focuses on Miranda Cooper’s past, the tragedy that has shaped her, and her battles with anxiety all while dealing with this unknown man out for her blood. It’s a heightened action thriller with a suspenseful chase fueling most of the film’s central tension. As such, the reality of the atmosphere and the cast’s performances help pull the audience into the high-stakes premise.

In an interview with Moviefone, J.K. Simmons divulged more details about the serial killer persona he inhabits within the film and the story in general. “We did talk about some of the developmental things of this story,” he said, “specifically about my character and if we would ever know anything about his motivation or what drove him to what we see him doing or is he just a complete psychopath and always has been.

“Once she (Michelle Schumacher) and Carolyn Carpenter, her writing partner made the decision to delve into a bit of that psychology, I found that the way that they examine where this guy is coming from to be smart, clever, surprising, interesting and revealing about him and about us as humanity on this planet. Which at the end of the day is what this movie is about, to me, is the human condition and Fernanda Urrejola’s character as the mom, how the power of her love is paramount.”

The central plot involving a woman being hunted in the woods is something we’ve certainly seen before. In Mike Flanagan’s 2016 slasher film ‘Hush,’ a woman living in an isolated home in the middle of the woods is stalked by a masked serial killer who wants to add her as a notch to his murder-centric belt. Maddie Young is a horror author, who is deaf and mute. She moves to a house in the woods to further her writing career only for one of her grisly tales to come to life as an unknown stranger sets his sights on her.

The apparent influences for ‘You Can’t Run Forever’ lie within the folds of these tense, riveting suspense films. Films like ‘Watcher (2022)’ and ‘Alone’ both depict a woman being trailed by a predator on the loose. In one of them, ‘Alone’, a 2020 psychological thriller directed by John Hyams, a young woman has to flee her bloodthirsty and psychopathic hunter by escaping into the wilderness. It serves as a close comparison to Miranda’s journey in ‘You Can’t Run Forever.’ But while they may have inspired Schumacher and Carpenter’s script, it’s not to say that the film doesn’t seem to follow along the lines of real-life events from the past.

Between 1971 and 1983, real-life serial killer Robert Hansen gained notoriety for kidnapping, rape, and murdering at least 17 women in Anchorage, Alaska. Many of these women were attacked in the wilderness by Hansen AKA the Butcher Baker while carrying a Ruger Mini-14 and hunting knives. Hansen’s way of operating was to abduct these women at gunpoint to his home where he would rape them. Then, he would proceed to hunt them down by setting them out in the wild as a form of game, before either shooting or stabbing them to death. He was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to 461 years to life. Hansen passed away while serving his sentence in 2014.

Hansen’s exploits gained him such infamy that a movie was made from the events surrounding him. In Scott Walker’s 2013 directorial debut ‘The Frozen Ground,’ an Alaskan state trooper teams up with one of Hansen’s victims, who happens to escape his clutches, and look to apprehend him. ‘You Can’t Run Forever’ may not feature a serial killer of Hansen’s status or his elaborate hunting patterns, but J.K. Simmons’ Wade has a similar modus operandi as he chases down his helpless victim with a gun and a deranged zest to kill.

‘You Can’t Run Forever’ takes a fresh swipe at the high-stakes thriller genre featuring a chase of life and death. It may not necessarily fall into the well-defined brackets of a real-life adaptation but something close to the events described in the film can be traced to Robert Hansen’s murderous spree in the 70s and 80s. A culmination of true accounts and past movies within the genre, Schumacher’s ‘You Can’t Run Forever’ blends elements from both sources to offer up an interesting mix of thriller narration to keep you solidly invested.

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