Sunday 1 March 2020

Movie Review: No Escape (2015)

A straightforward thriller, No Escape is a harrowing tale of a family caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and forced to flee tumultuous events in a foreign land.

After the failure of his private venture, Texan Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) relocates his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters to an unnamed country (suspiciously similar to Thailand) in South East Asia. He is starting a new job with the American company Cardiff, which has been commissioned to improve the national water system. On the flight Jack meets the mysterious Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who seems to know the country well.

Soon after the Dwyers arrive, a violent coup d'etat overthrows the government. The Prime Minister is killed, and rampaging mobs take to the streets, hunting down and killing foreigners. Jack, Annie and the two girls barely escape to the roof of their hotel, but the murderous thugs are close behind, and the family's horrific ordeal of survival is just beginning.

No Escape suffers from a few unfortunate weaknesses. Similar to The Impossible, here again tragedy sweeps through a South East Asian country, but the focus is singularly on a white family. The locals are reduced to murderous goons or deep background extras, and they all exist free of any context.

And once the Dwyers are forced to run, the film defaults to an almost uninterrupted fight or flee construct, one narrow escape following another with barely a pause.

But at least No Escape commits to what it wants to do and does it well. Director John Erick Dowdle co-wrote the script with his brother Drew, and creates an undeniably exciting thriller. The Dwyers are allowed the required trace of unusual heroism, but otherwise remain a normal panicked family lugging around two young daughters to try and evade an unfolding hell.

Beyond the predictable family-is-all theme, Dwyer accentuates the do something survival ethos. Repeatedly Jack stays alive by finding the courage to act rather than just hide, a terrifying rooftop escape just one example of how the risk and reward calculus changes in the face of imminent slaughter.

On one rare occasion when the film catches its breath, Pierce Brosnan's Hammond character provides an abbreviated version of dark governmental geopolitical games perpetuating the coup. It's the slightest of nods towards a backstory, rudely interrupting No Escape as it races to the next cliffhanger moment, and the next one after that.

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