No Escape (2015) Review
No Escape was directed by John Erick Dowdle, written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (As Above, So Below, Devil), and stars Owen Wilson (Bottle Rocket, Loki), Lake Bell (Harley Quinn, It’s Complicated), Sterling Jerins (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Boarding School), Claire Geare (Dream House, Legend of Kung-Fu Rabbit), and Pierce Brosnan (Black Adam, Evelyn). It’s about a family that has recently moved to a south Asian country having to make their way out after it’s turned into a warzone.
The Plot: Running is normally reserved for action sequences, not lengthened into a full feature. It can work if properly developed and periodically clarified, but the Dowdle brothers fail to do so, turning their film into a laborious gauntlet of over and under explanations.
Doing away with the best potential usage of confusion, No Escape opens with the reason behind all the soon-to-unfurl chaos: a coup in whatever country this is supposed to be. The decision to open with this and then jump back 17 hours is baffling, as this takes away part of the chaotic energy of the feature. Either way, the expat Dwyer family – consisting of parents Jack (Wilson) and Annie (Bell) and daughters Lucy (Jerins) and Beeze (Geare) – is forced to find a method of escape before they get caught in the crossfire of the ensuing riots.
Narratively, there’s not much else to speak about other than the inclusion of recent acquaintance Hammond (Brosnan) who becomes a repetitive deus ex-machina for the family, straining the plausibility of the chicanery throughout No Escape. The third act tries for some reveals about an unwanted American company being the motive for the riots and death, but the Dowdles have such a thin idea for said motive that it gets lost in the family’s escape. Simplicity is fine when paired with momentum, so the minuscule plot works for stretches, but the film somehow overdoes and underdevelops itself, with vague locations and motives undoing one end and a framed narrative undoing the other.
The Characters: In an effort to maintain the everyman qualities of the Dwyer family, most aspects of development and backstory are eschewed. Functioning as intended for much of No Escape, the characters tread the line between quick thinking and superhero too often for humanity to land properly.
Jack has had enough of the fickleness of America’s business market, with his last ventures going under quickly and expensively. He just wants to make his family happy, which can lead him to be a bit demanding in a place ill-suited to his lifestyle, but he means well and will do anything that he has to in order to please his wife and daughters. Annie falls by the wayside as a character and partner, as she can be reduced to “the mom” rather easily. She has significantly less confidence in the uprooting of the family but is willing to try and adjust. Eventually, she becomes something of a cartoon in her maternal instincts, but the sense of uncertainty remains.
Lucy and Beeze (short for Briegel) aren’t really given any separation from each other as characters. Understandable, sure, but a missed opportunity nonetheless. Some ribbing comes from both about one being more difficult than the other and there are a few moments of wonder from their perspective, but not much else.
Hammond is implied to be some kind of government operator – probably a nod to Brosnan’s time as Bond – but he’s too thin a character for that to register outside of the casting. There’s a brief mention of a deceased family of his own, which may explain his sympathy and attachment to the Dwyers, but he’s never explored. The relationship between the family is believable, which is what counts in the end, even if it could’ve been better.
The Thrills: With over 70 minutes dedicated to outrunning the rebels, there are more than a few exciting setpieces which become something of a double-edged sword with the passage of runtime.
Surprise is somewhat deflated with the framed narrative, but once No Escape catches up with it, there’s an enthralling level of believable chaos. As Jack is roaming the streets to find a newspaper written in English, silence takes over the city for a brief moment that’s soon followed by a cacophony of combating riot police and mobs of locals armed with rocks, machetes, and firebombs. There’s no warning for Jack, and he’s caught literally in the middle, which raises tension over what may have already happened to his family.
Of course, nothing has by the time he gets back to the hotel they’ve been staying at, but the riots have only begun. No Escape doesn’t take long to strain its credulity with near misses and improbable stunts though. The film kicks off around 25 minutes in, and Jack and Annie are throwing their kids across roofs within ten minutes of that point. Running and hiding isn’t the problem here; breaking up the process with extreme stunts is.
Hammond’s presence is limited, but he makes up for the other facet of the film, as his nebulous credentials allow him to be an action hero of sorts as he knows every street of the surrounding area, how to use every gun, and where to be exactly when he’s needed. Surely a map for the Dwyers and some impromptu weapons training would’ve been more organic. Contrary to what one might think upon reading this, the film is full of exciting moments, but it’s ultimately too contrived and overblown to be consistently so.
The Technics: Dollars stretch further in eastern countries, so No Escape has a greater playground to explore that also grants it some visual distinction from domestic or otherwise familiar settings. It’s got slickness, but there are plenty of bad decisions.
Pacing isn’t one of those issues; though the feature is a few minutes longer than necessary, it’s rare that it slows down for more than a couple of minutes at a time. With skillful editing by Elliot Greenberg (Cursed, Escape Plan), the constant movement of both characters and camera keeps the pressure on at all times. Adding onto this is the score by Marco Beltrami (Fear Street trilogy, The Homesman) and Buck Sanders (Venom: Let There Be Carnage, All Hallows’ Eve 2), which isn’t all that special and is blatantly manipulative at times, but its pace is equal to what’s on-screen and jives with the scenery.
Direction from Dowdle is good as a whole, but not without its groan-inducing moments. Most scenes are shot hand-held to keep the illusion going, but some cheesy slow-motion shots let the Hollywood influences show themselves when they should be completely absent, given the film’s intentions. Paired with subpar CGI explosions, helicopters and a horribly unconvincing gap to cross, the film looks great when kept to reality, but the post-production process didn’t stack up to the beautiful locations.
No Escape is a mixed bag of tricks, with some manipulative moments and underdeveloped motivations for the assassination of the Prime Minister of the generic Asian country, but there are good moments to be found; most notably the believable performances from Wilson and Bell; and a blistering pace of setpieces.