After his company went belly-up, Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) moves his family – wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two children Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) – overseas to Southeast Asia for his new job with an American conglomerate that is working to provide clean water to the many fourth-world locals.
That corporation, though, has drawn the ire of the nation’s revolutionaries who have taken over the area, gunning down anyone in their way of their trail of terror and trapping the Dwyer family in the midst of it all.
From brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle, the filmmaking duo behind horror flicks The Poughkeepsie Tapes, the Quarantine remake and last year’s As Above, So Below, No Escape is a brutal, white-knuckle thriller, one that places its ex-pats in a foreign dump and then putting them through a world of hurt as they desperately fight their way out.
And you know you’re in a colossal shit-hole when you willingly risk life and limb in order to sneak across the border into Vietnam.
We’ve seen films like No Escape before. There’s the adorable kids that are soon to be placed in peril, the milquetoast businessman dad who turns into Chuck Norris at the snap of a finger when danger strikes and the fellow ex-pat who winds up not being who initially seemed to be.
Say what you want about director/writer John Erick and writer/producer Drew’s aforementioned films. Their filmography is obviously far from the best, but if anything, they know how to put together a slick looking flick (two redeeming qualities of As Above, So Below’s were the camera work and sound design). It can’t be denied that John Erick has a sharp skill-set for atmosphere and tense, suspenseful setpieces, even if those setpieces are isolated strong points within mediocre films. With No Escape, John Erick wisely doesn’t waste any time and cuts to the chase (a wisely chosen contrast to As Above, So Below which took some time before bringing out the good stuff), opening with an assassination in one effective long-take, then giving Owen Wilson and his family a brief intro before letting all hell break loose.
When No Escape is clicking on all cylinders, the action can get pretty tense as well as also shamelessly ludicrous. You’ll see no greater example of such unabashed lunacy than Owen Wilson chucking his kids from one rooftop to another in 300-style slow motion.
Unlike the Dowdles’ previous films, this film features bigger headlining names (though Quarantine featured some recognizable faces, Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter among others). Known primarily for comedy, Owen Wilson seems like an odd choice for the lead in a thriller. Admittedly, I was a tad puzzled too upon seeing his face pop up in the trailers the first time I saw them, but it’s actually one of Wilson’s stronger performances, even if his character is a bit of a dunce for not having even just a little bit of a clue that the country he and his family are moving to hates his business.
Lake Bell also gives a fine performance as Wilson’s wife who’s frustrated over the sudden move, yet can still be fiercely defensive like a momma bear with her family when things turn terrible for them. Pierce Brosnan has fun with the obligatory role of the drunk, Cockney-slurring tourist who turns out to be more than just a horny vacationer looking for easy women.
But for all it does right, No Escape takes a big misstep in trying to become more than what it needs to be about halfway through. This could’ve worked as a popcorn thriller, and for a little over a half, it does, but for some reason that’s not good enough for the Dowdle brothers as they cram in a cheap politics about corporations taking advantage of fourth-world countries. Perhaps halfway through writing this, they felt they needed to make some kind of statement and wedged in the weak message. It’s not needed; in fact, it hurts the film ’cause it comes off as slapdash, and in film that plays like a slasher horror movie, no less. Sure, a slick looking, sharply edited slasher horror movie, but if you’re gonna wax political about first-world bullies and the repercussions of their actions, it’d be nice if we got revolutionary villains with more motivation and personality than George A. Romero’s zombies and a touch more insight into the problems the fourth-worlders are facing than just treating them as collateral damage props.
No, I don’t find the Dowdles’ worldview “reprehensible”, “racist” or “repugnant” like the sticks up other critics’ asses find it to be (comparing this to Birth of a Nation is quite a stretch). It’s just lazy writing.
By the way, it’s odd that for a film titled No Escape, I counted at least three times the villains capture the Dwyer family only to just cackle maniacally as they harass them, which gives the family just enough time to in fact make an escape.
For a final summer month that’s usually loaded with almost as much crap as January, No Escape could’ve been worse. Worse is exactly what I was expecting, but director John Erick Dowdle’s craftsmanship and a talented cast generate enough popcorn thrills, despite the film’s throwaway politics which hold it back from being the better film it could’ve been. Think of it as the Dowdles earning an A for shop-class and a D for poli-sci.