As far as trapped in a snowy location with maniac thrillers go, No Exit is a sturdy entry. It’s a zippy ninety minutes, although the best stuff really happens in the last thirty, but there are multiple very well done scenes that escalate the tension with solid direction. There’s the odd wrong note here and there, like a climactic moment which turns on a character taking a bump of cocaine like Popeye’s Spinach that gives them the quick energy boost they need. But when the chaos starts unfolding, it gets supremely messy quickly.
Darby (Havana Rose Liu) has escaped from rehab to see her hospitalized mother, but a fierce storm moves in. She shelters at a visitor centre and meets fellow stranded travellers, Ed (Dennis Haysbert), Sandi (Dale Dickey), Ash (Danny Ramirez) and Lars (David Rysdahl). While going outside trying to find cell service, she sees a little girl, Jay (Mila Harris) bound in a van. Even worse, the kid has been kidnapped by Ash and Lars. Now Darby tries to free the kid without alerting the two madmen or else Ash will kill everyone. All of this is happening while the storm is getting worse, and they can’t contact the outside world.
There is a lot early on about Darby’s backstory and her cycle of addiction, rehab, and family issues. This builds up the character as the main hero, but the lack of affection from her family seems like filler in what is supposed to be a locked room thriller, even in a flick this short. At the most it is supposed to make Darby a sympathetic lead which is easy to do since Liu makes the character seem human. She seems perpetually put upon and when some crazy things happen in the finale she has a lot of rousing moments.
The drug backstory becomes absurdly important when Darby is placed in a spot where a hidden stash of cocaine gives her enough strength to do something incredibly painful. It’s just an odd moment to have in the flick; it would have worked better if she just had to do a painful act without needing to throw in the whole bit about her needing drugs to accomplish this life saving miracle. Maybe it’s meant to be tragic that she has to dip back into drug use to save the day but it just comes off as really dopey.
Haysbert as Ed, he of David Palmer from 24 and the Allstate ads “Are You in Good Hands” fame, always has a commanding voice so whenever he says something it seems important. There’s a very tense scene when he’s yelling through the door of the visitor centre to Ash and Lars and Haysbert delivers his lines with conviction. Early on, he invites everyone at the visitor centre to a friendly card game, but he mentions about gambling for 25 cents a hand. Later, when Sandi mentions to him that he gambles away their money it shows that deep down he’s a compulsive gambler. His wife, Sandi, is basically just an exposition piece and seems to be indicating that she just wants the whole thing to end, although later she is part of a decent twist. The little girl Jay just cries a lot and there is a somewhat hacky bit that if her adrenaline gets too high, she’ll die which seems like a manufactured way to create tension. There’s a single flashback to before she was kidnapped that twists notions of what the audience thought about the characters.
As the two kidnappers, Ramirez and Rysdahl have a very strange energy which fits the character. Rysdahl’s Lars immediately comes off as a freak so it’s no surprise when it turns out he’s the one keeping the kid in the van although Ash also being in on it is slightly more of a surprise. The best stuff they do is when Ash is desperate to get into the visitor centre and he gets more bonkers as it goes on, and Lars becomes more whiny as he wants to run away from it all. Ramirez’s best stuff is in the final moments when Ash goes completely bugaboo and makes for a formidable bad guy.
The music by Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins nicely enhances the tension, becoming more bombastic as things increasingly go wrong. Director Damien Power is good at framing the movie for maximum tension when things start to get messy. There is a surprising amount of nail gun violence in the third act which is a bit gorier than expected. Definitely the best stuff is in the final ten minutes when everything goes crazy while the entire setting is on fire. It sort of becomes a survivalist and horror drama at the end there but that’s neat.
No Exit is a bit disjointed to start but pays off well in a finale blast of bloody chaos. When it gets rolling, it is a nicely made thriller that will provide a few jumps and surprises along the way. It doesn’t reinvent the isolated showdown genre but works within the claustrophobic confines well.
Director: Damien Power
Starring: Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl, Dale Dickey, Mila Harris and Dennis Haysbert