Most people can’t do more than one thing at a time. This genetic drawback is something that benefits No Escape greatly as it’s kind of hard to give too much serious thought to the film’s flimsy characterisation, and bare bones plotting when you’re too busy biting your nails to the quick. And you will be chomping down on your nails all the damn time across this breathless thriller’s 103 minute running time.
Director John Erick Dowdle – who also co-scripts with his brother Drew – is known more for horror work like the English language remake of found footage “zombie virus” shrieker Rec, retitled as Quarantine, and underground supernatural horror As Above So Below. While neither of these movie are substantially great cinematic efforts, they do possess a palpable, nerve-shredding tension throughout. Now Dowdle supplants that constitution-rattling suspense to the “real world”, in particular some unnamed Southeast Asian country which American engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) are just flying in to with their two young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) to restart their life after Jack got a big job at a US firm that builds water plants in the region.
Unbeknownst to Jack though, is that they’re touching down right as the sparks of civil war are fanned into an inferno after a group of rebels assassinate the country’s Prime Minister as retaliation for his foreign business dealings which has undermined the locals. And as the uprising turns deliriously violent – with death squads of locals going hotel to hotel, dragging out foreigners to be shot or butchered in the streets as payback for their country’s dealings – Jack and his family are trapped right in the centre of this maelstrom.
What follows is sphinctre-tightening set piece after set piece, as Jack and Annie have to run breakneck, doing everything they can to just keep their family alive in the absolute chaos churning all around them – a task made more difficult by the relentless rebel leader who recognizes Jack as a key employee of the US engineering firm and has his men stalk them from one claustrophobic, blood soaked street to the next.
And really, that’s the movie. Along the way, Pearce Brosnan shows up as a mysterious American ally with helpful local knowledge and contacts, but also an agenda of his own, but there’s really not much more to him than: Conveniently shows up to shoot guns at the bad guys. Oh no doubt he does it very well though, proving there’s definitely still some action-man life left in the erstwhile 007.
One person who has never been a believable serious action man though is Wilson, with his one proper attempt at the genre – ignoring his more comedy-sided antics with Jackie Chan – being the 2001 thriller Behind Enemy Lines, with that movie ending up as rickety as his infamous nose. In No Escape that lack of action hero credentials works though, as he is completely believable as the everyday family man, just desperately floundering around to protect his family. So too always great Lake Bell turns in a very solid showing as Annie, the protective mother who gets placed through the wringer as she nearly sees her loved ones ripped apart several times.
The true standouts though are Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare as the young Lucy and Beeze, going from cutely normal young girls at the start of the film to terror-wrecked shells and wholeheartedly selling it all with amazing conviction. It’s super-realistically tense performances that will often have you on the verge of gnawing your fingers down to nubs.
But while the actors all step to the plate in a big way, the Dowdle’s uneven scripting let’s them down a bit as characters are often nothing more than a boggle-eyed petrified expression and a pair of frantically running legs – which may be enough in its raucous, breathless action beats, but glares wrongly in the film’s few quieter moments. No Escape is also extremely heavy-handed and even borderline offensive with its politics, and after a terrifyingly enlivening start, it does take its foot off the gas a bit too much in its third act.
But even with those foibles and lack of filmmaking polish, No Escape still provides ample intense chills and thrills, completely sold by a very game cast. So much so that you may want to ask your local cinema manager for a discount on your tickets, because while you may have paid them for a full seat, chances are that you’re only going to be stuck on the very edge of it for most of the movie.
Last Updated: November 18, 2015