The pandemic hit the film industry hard. Not just theaters where films were suppose to be released but could not, but also in the way that films were forced to be made. Crews of hundreds were reduced to a bare bones skeleton crew, and large casts were forced to only hire leads and little else. On top of all that, globe trotting locations were all but forgotten, trading out big scale scenery for single setting stories. “No Exit” is both a product and victim of this kind of filmmaking. A small cast, single setting story that has all the makings of a successful COVID era thriller that squanders its premise through poor execution and abysmal writing. “No Exit” has a lot of potential, but can’t quite bring it all together in any kind of compelling or meaningful way.
Based on the novel by Taylor Adams of the same name and directed by Damien Power with a screenplay by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, “No Exit” tells the story of a group of 5 strangers stuck at a rest stop during a blizzard. Darby is the last to arrive, having fled rehab in hopes to reach her mother who has been hospitalized with a brain aneurysm. Shortly after arriving, she discovers a young girl trapped in the back of a van outside a rest stop who has been kidnapped by someone inside. The small rest stop suddenly transforms into a game of cat and mouse, who dunnit and twists and turns that threaten the lives of everyone inside.
There’s a lot to like about “No Exit” on paper. The premise lends itself to a gripping mystery thriller, where we should never fully trust anyone as the story and mystery begins to unfold. There should be a ton of tension here as Darby (Havanah Rose Lui) tries to not only save the kidnapped young girl, but also find out who the kidnappers are and what they’re capable of. Were it paced and executed better, it has all the makings of the perfect, single setting thriller that should immediately put you on the edge or you seat until the final moments. Unfortunately, Power fails to really capitalize on these strengths, opting for a more slow burn type of unfolding events that never quite pack the punch that it should. This is largely due in part to the fact that the mystery is taken out of it pretty quick, with one latter reveal coming in long after we’ve drifted off into indifference.
It is a wasted premise, and the narrative entry points are far less intriguing than Power (Barrer and Ferrari too) believe it to be, with the primary subplot being Darby and her addiction instead of a set up primed for engaging reveal. It is a sad waste of space and time that all should lend itself to making “No Exit” far more exciting that it ends up being. I, for one, am a huge fan of a lot of things that this film has. I enjoy this new found obsession (born out of necessity of course) with single setting stories, small casts of interesting characters, and short, concise runtimes. There’s a real sweet spot for that 80-90 minute run time, something I’ve longed to see more of for quite sometime, and I give “No Exit” for not trying to stretch the narrative beyond its capabilities.
In addition to not truly executing on the level of intrigue that the premise has in its roots, the writing of Barrer and Ferrari is cringe at best. I didn’t read the novel, so I can’t speak to the narrative capabilities of Adams, but “No Exit” really struggles with its dialogue and character interactions. Lui, along with the rest of the cast that includes criminally underrated Dale Dicky and Mr. Allstate himself Dennis Haysbert, are all clearly trying to elevate the material, and do enough to make you wish they were all in a better movie. But the dialogue is just unimaginably dumb, paired with poor pacing and execution makes it stick out more than it should. It doesn’t need to be Shakespeare, but it also doesn’t need to be borderline eye-roll either.
“No Exit” focuses on all the wrong things, and manages to turn an intriguing premise into kind of a mess of a movie. It may be constantly moving, but takes its time to focus on too many wrong things, and moves the reveals and thrilling elements around into an order that makes it really hard to stay engaged in.
Oh, and the fact that Darby snorts cocaine to give her “superpowers” to get out of a bad situation is just so ridiculous and so insane it becomes harder and harder to take anything that happens seriously. I’m sure it wants to be some kind of commentary on recovery and addiction, but the way it is executed feels more in line with “Harley Quinn” face planting into seized coke so she can wield a bat while cartwheeling thugs in the face. There is NOTHING in “No Exit” that should conjure up this kind of comparison, but it is almost impossible to not immediately think of that scene for the wrong reasons.
I know I’m being rather harsh on “No Exit,” but it truly comes from a place of disappointment and not so much a dislike for the film overall. Yes, the finished product isn’t good, but it COULD be, and that makes it more frustrating than enjoyable. There is so much more you can do with 5 strangers stuck in a blizzard with a kidnapper among them, and the escalating tensions and mystery reveals could stack and stack until everything explodes, and we get an action packed, incredibly tense third act. Unfortunately, none of that happens here. “No Exit” squanders everything that could be great and interesting, becoming a forgettable, not so thrilling thriller when it could be something you can’t wait to talk about with your friends.
I wanted to love “No Exit,” as it has a lot of the aforementioned things I’ve come to really enjoy about films and the current era of filmmaking. Sadly, it left me more despondent and hollow, never doing enough to keep me engaged nor leaving me with anything to remember once the credits rolled.
Rating: 2.5 out 5 Stars
“No Exit” is currently streaming on Hulu. You can watch the trailer below.