Film Review – No Exit
No Exit (2022) is the kind of thriller that sneaks up on you. The premise is familiar and it takes a while to get going. Once it does, we surprisingly get caught up in it. It doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but has enough style and craft to make it more than just another forgettable genre film. This is one of those instances where someone may stumble upon it one lazy afternoon and walk away entertained. Or it may be discovered through word of mouth, gaining a small reputation over time. I’m not saying this reinvents the wheel, but it does make the most of what it has to offer.
Directed by Damien Power and written by Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, and Scott Frank(adapted from Taylor Adams’ novel), the set up involves a group of people getting trapped in one location with a central mystery hanging over them. Our protagonist is Darby (Havana Rose Liu) who – after discovering that her mother has become ill – escapes from a rehab facility and attempts to make her way to Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, a heavy snowstorm derails her trip, forcing her to take refuge at a rest stop. There, she meets four other people – Lars (David Rysdahl), Ash (Danny Ramirez), Ed (Dennis Haysbert), and Sandi (Dale Dickey). At first, the group seems cordial enough, even partaking in a card game. However, things take a major turn when Darby steps outside and finds a kidnapped girl (Mila Harris) locked inside of a van.
Which one of the four is the criminal? How does Darby uncover the culprit and rescue the girl when they are all stuck in this one place together? The question of “Who?” is answered quickly, but Power and his team maintain the suspense. The tension doesn’t rely on whom, but how. How is Darby going to work herself out of this predicament? We learn early on that she has a history of lying, family problems, and other personal issues. These bits add to the pressure, making us wonder whether Darby has enough self-fortitude to get through the night. Liu makes Darby a convincing and believable character. She has a strong screen presence, balancing Darby’s various emotions so she doesn’t feel one-dimensional.
The cast overall is effective, even when their characters are painted thinly. The narrative doesn’t spend too much time on their backstories, but each performer fills their respective roles admirably. Dennis Haysbert and Dale Dickey bring some welcomed gravitas, supplying dramatic weight to their parts. Danny Ramirez and David Rysdahl bring youthful energy to the proceedings. The two exist on opposite ends of the acting spectrum, but on screen they equal each other out. As the story progresses, hidden secrets and startling twists change the dynamic of the group. Each revelation brings a new outlook with how the characters relate to one another. This amplifies to the point of near absurdity, but that’s when things get interesting.
Viewers will either click in or check out by the latter stages. While it does take a good while for Power to arrange his dominoes, once things start to unravel is when the movie takes off. Power does not shy away from some macabre situations – the violence is up close, intimate, and brutal. But his direction (along with Simon Raby’s cinematography and Andy Canny’s editing) structure these scenes with striking visual clarity. They compose images that stick with us: a streak of blood splattered against the snow, the way the camera scans the room when something is amiss, the way a nail gun is used – these all combine to elevate the sense of impending doom.
No Exit isn’t without its faults, most of which are in the writing. I haven’t read Taylor Adam’s novel, so I can’t say how well the production adapted it. The film does ask us to make some large leaps in logic – not only suspending our disbelief but throwing it out of the window. The action maybe set in one place, but there isn’t a feeling of claustrophobia. The way in which characters leave the building, run around in the snow, and come back in gets a little silly in its repetitiveness. The fact that no one appears affected by the blizzard happening outside goes to show that it is more of an inconvenience rather than an active participant. The biggest issue involves a major plot twist late into the runtime. I will not describe it, but anybody who sees this will know which one I am referring to. Let’s just say it is the make-or-break moment of the entire film – viewers will either accept it and go along for the ride or will be completely turned off. I leaned more toward the former but can understand if others will respond negatively.
I liked but didn’t love No Exit. It’s a solid crime picture that isn’t afraid to take chances and get its hands dirty. The execution outshines some of the more blatant missteps. In a sea of mid-budget thrillers, this one rises above the pack. Those that give it a shot might be in for a bloody good time.