Directed by: Damien Power
Premise: Based on the novel by Taylor Adams. A recovering addict (Havana Rose Liu) absconds from rehab but a blizzard strands her at a highway visitor center with a group of strangers. She discovers a kidnapped child in one of their cars.
What Works: No Exit is a tight thriller that nods to Alfred Hitchcock films such as Psycho and Lifeboat as well as John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s an intimate story of paranoia that is efficient and tense. Movies that take place in a limited space within a narrow period of time have unique continuity and pacing challenges and the filmmakers of No Exit manage the screen direction and the tension quite well. One of the outstanding qualities of No Exit is the way in which it tells a lean story while finding ways to reset our understandings and expectations. The film begins in a rehab facility where Darby, played by Havana Rose Liu, discovers that her mother has been hospitalized with a terminal condition. We’re initially set up to believe this is a story about a family reunion but Darby’s escape is foiled by a blizzard that diverts her to a shelter. There she meets a group of strangers and discovers one of them is holding a girl captive and Darby must identify the culprit. The filmmakers spring a series of surprises, some more unexpected than others, that shift our expectations and escalate the stakes. The storytelling principle of Chekhov’s Gun is followed closely and No Exit is tightly unified with every aspect of the story effectively set up and paid off. The rehab prologue serves a narrative function, establishing props that come into play later, but it also gives Darby depth of character. She has a troubled family history and that past informs Darby’s choices over the course of the night, giving her a character arc. The rest of the people at the shelter are well defined and revealed to be more complex than they first appear.
What Doesn’t: The one dissatisfying aspect of No Exit occurs in the climax. The filmmakers develop the characters well and they are divided into two distinct camps. But the filmmakers want to put the emphasis back on Darby and in the process several characters are suddenly eliminated from the story without much payoff. This storytelling decision succeeds in isolating Darby and escalating the stakes but it also feels like a waste of interesting characters.
Bottom Line: No Exit provides exactly what viewers want from this kind of movie: it puts the audience on the edge of their seats early on and keeps us there for the duration. But the filmmakers also manage to insert some character depth within a lean thriller, making No Exit an excellent example of this genre.
Episode: #895 (March 20, 2022)