No Exit (Review): A Basic Yet Memorable Thrill Ride
No Exit brings no innovative concepts to the table, but it succeeds at what it wants to do with fantastic casting and grim, well-crafted suspense.
Looking over the press details for this film took me to a web page with the Walt Disney Studios logo on the top, which was very bizarre considering how … not Disney-friendly this film is. No Exit is a thriller recently released directly onto Hulu, brought to us by director Damien Power. When recovering drug addict Darby (Havana Rose Liu) learns that her mother has been sent to the hospital, she escapes rehab and drives to Salt Lake City, Utah, only to be stopped by a heavy blizzard. Stranded, she heads to a rest stop, where she discovers a kidnapped girl (Mila Harris) in the back of a car … and four people inside the rest stop building who may be involved.
For the most part, that synopsis of No Exit’s story contains about as much depth as the film itself. While the plot has multiple layers that unfold as it goes along, this is a very straightforward, even derivative story that doesn’t leave you with that much to think about. But where No Exit is lacking in any innovative concepts, it makes up for in its skillful, engaging execution. Right way, you understand Darby’s initial ordeal and why she feels so helpless and trapped, by both her rehab clinic and her family’s attempts to keep her distant even when her own mother is hospitalized. But you also understand why everyone keeps pushing her away, even without even seeing the actual events that led her to this point in her life. But even though this backstory does pop up in a few places, it’s admittedly a bit disappointing that it’s mostly pushed to the side once Darby reaches the inn. This is tough to criticize the film too harshly for, though. I can’t think of how it would play a bigger role in the story, and it still adds just enough to the film’s dour mood, serving as a source of sympathy and torment for Darby.
No Exit is being advertised as somewhat of a mystery, with every character in the group being a “suspect” to a kidnapping. But you definitively learn at least one of the people responsible not even halfway through, and while there are additional twists and reveals sprinkled in throughout, figuring out and deducing these reveals is not the point or focus of the film. This didn’t bother me, as almost every surprise is something that I didn’t see coming and kept my guard up. Even when you think you have the full picture and hope find some sense of security in that knowledge, you’re still not willing to completely put your trust in any one character. Everyone is carrying their own baggage that they either rise above or fall victim to. The casting is perfect, especially Dennis Haysbert and Dale Dickey as two of the “suspects.” They bring such magnetic personality that very quickly makes you want to know everything you can about them. Their history, their interactions, and the moments where they become at odds with one another as the chaos rises, make for the best drama of the film.
No Exit isn’t shot in any amazing or extraordinary way, but from its simplistic composition still comes a considerable amount of suspense, largely thanks to the razor-sharp editing that carries the momentum of the film’s most intense sequences, and Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins’s persistent, droning score. This thriller is constantly dark, uncomfortable, and downright relentless. Once things start to go wrong, the film never lets up on the viewer until the very end, even after subjecting the audience to some nasty bits of violence, including a particularly gruesome sequence involving a nail gun. Every sequence feels so well-planned as well, with events lining up to create what feels like the most suspense possible without coming across as contrived, right down to a climax where one thing goes wrong after another just as you think the day is finally saved. As someone who has a particular fondness for snowy nighttime sequences, I also love the look of this film any time the characters are outside in the blizzard-stricken night. You really feel the bitter cold, which further adds to the overall sense of entrapment and makes for harsher conditions on top of the terrible occurrences. This isn’t one of the best-looking films you’ll likely see this year, but for a straight-to-streaming release, No Exit can still look pretty impressive.
If you see the trailer for No Exit and are hoping for something really rich and complex to go with the thrills being advertised, you might end up disappointed. To a slight extent, I myself am a bit let down by how surface-level the story is. But it’s hard to let such a feeling linger when the film’s strengths are more than enough to make up for that. The stellar cast, well-helmed suspense, and unyieldingly dark atmosphere make No Exit a simple but very enjoyable film that I think anyone looking for some good thrills will be generally happy with.
No Exit is now available to watch on Hulu.
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