DIRECTOR: Damien Power

CAST: Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, Dennis Haysbert, David Rysdahl, Dale Dickey, Mila Harris, Benedict Wall, Lisa Zhang, Hweiling Ow

RUNNING TIME: 95 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: During a snowstorm, a group of stranded travellers find themselves in a cat-and-mouse game when some disturbing cargo is uncovered…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Attempting to visualise what Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight would have been like were it directed like a straightforward suspense thriller – and yet somehow with just as much gore and murder – No Exit, from debut director Damien Power and based on the novel by Taylor Adams, is a film that will give you exactly what you are expecting, and nothing more or less.

In a way, it’s rather refreshing to see a thriller like this be so straightforward, as it gets all of its burning mysteries out of the way pretty early so that the rest of it can be a riotous display of nasty, unapologetic violence and antagonism. However, because it is does play all of its cards so openly and without much of an additional mystery, it does sometimes come across as a little hollow at its centre – entertaining, sure, but still pretty hollow.

Our protagonist is a young woman named Darby (Havana Rose Liu), a recovering drug addict who escapes her rehabilitation centre to go and visit her mother, who’s been hospitalised for a brain aneurism. Unfortunately, she gets stuck in a heavy snowstorm, forcing her to take shelter at a visitors centre where only four other people – married couple Ed (Dennis Haysbert) and Sandi (Dale Dickey), handsome loner Ash (Danny Ramirez), and agitated creep Lars (David Rysdahl) – are present. Adding to the uncomfortableness, Darby discovers that inside one of the others’ van is a kidnapped young girl (Mila Harris) who is screaming for help, leaving Darby to deduce which of her four unexpected companions is responsible, and in doing so igniting a vicious cat-and-mouse game of survival that goes on all through the night.

The film is a decent collection of strong ingredients that do make for a compelling mystery thriller, from its limited but memorable cast of characters, to the ominous atmosphere inside and outside this snow-covered location, and motivations that are straight out of a particularly dark slice of pulp fiction, the kind that they’d have to get specific permission from sensitive regulators before publishing. Director Damien Power, known primarily for short films but also has the feature Killing Ground to his name, certainly has an idea of how to flaunt the constant sense of doom and gloom throughout, which some moody cinematography by Simon Raby helps to accentuate, while the filmmaker does well to keep a mostly consistent tone without feeling like it suddenly turns into a completely different movie halfway through.

The thing is, No Exit doesn’t really feel like a true mystery, with most of the core questions are very quickly answered by the main character’s amateur detective work, and the few big reveals left behind the curtain feeling too easily telegraphed. As for the thriller angle, it’s not so much that it’s terrible at what it does – again, some decent filmmaking makes that so – but it’s also not especially thrilling since it doesn’t seem like it’s truly grounded in an identifiable sense of reality. The plot eventually becomes way too convoluted as it tries to force in connections with all of our main characters, and by the climax comes around you barely feel like you’ve gotten to know any of these people outside of their most basic motivations. Some of the performances also do become so over-the-top that any sense of subtlety is sacrificed, though a few exceptions manage to get away with being entertainingly cartoonish in their villainy, to a point where you can almost see one of them twirling their moustache and laughing maniacally if this were a much more light-hearted movie. At times, the movie loses sight of its consistent tone and makes some weird tangents; a sudden flashback turns everything into a Disney Channel movie with the tone of Fargo, while a later scene involving Havana Rose Liu’s character trying to get out of a particularly nail-biting situation goes into straight-up Popeye territory, only if you replace the spinach with something completely different (and yes, it’s exactly as ridiculous and somewhat misguided as you may think it is).

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, that there would be a major twist that would explain all the straightforward plotting and noticeable lack of mystery or true thrills; but alas, No Exit really does play each one of its tricks with a straight face, and was exactly what I thought it was going to be without any major differences to the formula or tone. Again, though, I do admire that this is a film that doesn’t try to be anything really substantial, and can easily be watched with popcorn in one hand and the TV remote in another; but in terms of finding something that will really have lasting power beyond its cheap thrills, you’re perhaps better off searching for another exit.

SO, TO SUM UP…

No Exit is a straightforward slice of pulp thriller entertainment which delivers all of its expected thrills and nothing more, though its lack of much else to make it stand out does leave it a little hollow.

No Exit is now available to stream on Disney+ Star

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