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No Way Out (2020) Review

One of the most common plot devices is pitting a group of people against the wilderness and the dangers it contains. And sometimes those dangers include other people. No Way Out is a new addition to the campers in peril genre. One that isn’t always what it seems to be.

Two couples venture into the Alaskan wilderness for a camping trip. Kyle (Christopher McGahan, Battleship, Virus of the Dead) is planning to propose to his girlfriend Norah (Jennifer Karraz). Blake (Chris Levine, Await the Dawn, Bad Bones) and Jessica (Johanna Rae, President Evil, Apocalypse Rising) on the other hand are just trying to keep from breaking up.

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Once they reach the campgrounds, however, relationship issues become the least of their worries. There’s somebody else in the woods, somebody wearing a gas mask. And that is never a good sign in a movie like this.

First-time director Joe Hamilton and writer Chris Levine give us an idea of just how rocky things are between Blake and Jessica pretty early in the going. After the proposal, she goes off on him for not telling her it was going to happen. The counterpoint with their happy friends says a lot. It also helps set the stage for what’s to come.

No Way Out has some of the familiar elements of the backwoods killer film. There are the seemingly dissimilar couples. The character who had a bad experience in the woods. Everyone getting lost in the dark. They’re all there, but the film doesn’t follow the usual format for these kinds of films.

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For one thing, the film switches between conventional cinematography, a video camera they have with them and the killer’s POV in what feels at times like a random manner. Considering how dark the night scenes are, some of those changes are a bit confusing at times, leaving me unsure whose POV I was seeing things from. That darkness doesn’t seem to be the result of poor lighting for once. The viewer is limited to seeing what the characters can see in the dark woods. It’s both effectively creepy and frustrating. But it’s the same frustration you would feel in the situation trying to see what’s happening just a few feet away.

And do not expect this to be Jason Goes to Alaska or Rituals. No Way Out has a rather leisurely pace. We’re forty-five minutes into the eighty-minute film before anyone dies. There’s a lot of time between the first encounter with Mr. Gasmask and that point. Some of it is building up suspense, some is character-driven drama.

In fact, No Way Out reminded me, both in look and in the story, of those shot on 16mm films from the 1970s that used to turn up on weekend TV and VHS back in the day. Ones like Happy Mother’s Day, Love George, or Slashed Dreams that walk a line between psychological thriller and horror.

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Because of this, until you get a handle on just where the plot is going, No Way Out can be hard to follow, at times annoyingly so. Once the script finally shows its hand, however, most of the pieces fall into place nicely. I say most because there are still a few things that didn’t entirely make sense at the film’s end. That may be intentional for reasons I can’t go into without dropping spoilers. Or I could have missed something due to glitches in the film’s volume.

Regardless of that, No Way Out is an entertaining film if you stick with it and pay attention. Hamilton, Levine, and Johanna Rae have reteamed for another genre film, Woods of Ash. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.

No Way Out is currently available to stream, you can check its Facebook page for more information.

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