The movie opens with NO ESCAPE showcased in bold, red letters on the screen, launching the audience into the terror of the plot from the get-go. No Escape follows Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife Annie (Lake Bell), and their two daughters Beeze (Claire Geare) and Lucy (Sterling Jerins) as they begin their new life as American expatriates in Southeast Asia. En route to their new home they befriend the kind but boozy Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), a British tourist on vacation from his government job. Shortly after arriving, terror engulfs the Dwyers as armed guerillas begin a killing spree in their hotel that forces them to run for their lives through a series of death-defying situations in a desperate attempt to reach safety across the Vietnamese border. In No Escape, directors John and Drew Dowdle (Quarantine, As Above So Below, Devil) deliver a powerhouse thriller that combines all the best elements of the suspense, action and drama genres.
Suspenseful moments, tragedy and powerful acting from Owen, Bell and Pierce Brosnan made No Escape a truly impactful film. Bell provides a character that strikes a balance between the weepy wife and the strong mother who pairs perfectly with Wilson’s role as the unexpected hero. The simple yet emotional performances of Geare and Jerin made the Dwyer family sympathetic and realistic. Brosnan’s authenticity as the jaded but loveable Hammond makes for an amazing supporting lead.
Masterful suspense sequences such as the girls being thrown over rooftops amidst approaching gunfire kept the audience at the edge of their seats. Despite the topic of mass killing, No Escape did not shy away from the tragedy of death. Unlike many action films that generate a high body count with no reaction from the characters, No Escape more honestly portrays the realities of violence and its consequences through the emotions of the Dwyer family. Freehand camera work, close-up shots and small sets cleverly brought the audience into the claustrophobic experience of the characters.
Although the movie received criticism from sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb for its poor plot development, the visual impact of the film made up for the simple storyline. In my opinion, the violent images spoke for themselves.
The film maintained a fast pace precisely because there were no unnecessary plotlines to slow it down. Conversations between characters focus on the impossible decisions they need to make to survive, not superficial character development. The story of the Dwyers is especially poignant given the global migrant and immigration crises of the 21st century.
It was refreshing to see an action film that didn’t push the theme of Western exceptionalism that has spoiled so many recent movies in the action/suspense genre such as The Hurt Locker (2009), Captain Phillips (2013) and American Sniper (2014). In fact, No Escape openly criticizes Europe and the United States for their exploitation of unstable third world economies.
Issues in the film are minor. There is a solid 20 minutes of many handheld tracking shots of Wilson running and slow-motion shots of people getting killed that it comes across as comedic instead of suspenseful. Brosnan’s Superman-like ability to swoop in and save the Dwyers from peril at the last moment goes completely unexplained. The hesitation of the guerillas to shoot the Dwyer family despite the ruthlessness of their killing spree is an obvious move by the directors to hold the audience in suspense while sacrificing realism.
Other than these minor technicalities, the film flawlessly follows the drama of the story without wasting time on unnecessary scenes. It’s a relief that the Dowdle brothers spare the audience the typical “one year later” scene at the end of the film that neatly wraps up the lives of the characters in a way that disregards the impact of the violence they just experienced.
Despite criticism by newspapers and social media reviewers alike, No Escape is impressive; it offers a straightforward, concise film with heart-stopping suspense, convincing acting performances, and an honest plot that doesn’t waste time on useless embellishments.