No Escape Review

by Steve Pulaski

John Erick Dowdle’s No Escape is a taut thriller, nicely edited and strongly paced, resulting in a film that knows exactly how to get your adrenaline up and your moviegoing senses tingled. Dowdle has been a strong force in the horror genre ever since his seldom-seen, largely unreleased debut The Poughkeepsie Tapes came onto the scene in 2007. Since then, Dowdle has proven his ability to direct claustrophobic thrillers such as As Above, So Below and Devil, solidifying his filmography as dynamic and rounded, especially for a horror/thriller director.

No Escape is his most mainstream project to date, with a bigger scale than his previous films and bigger stars as well. Set in Southeast Asia, we focus on Jack (Owen Wilson), his wife Annie (Lake Bell), and their children Lucy and Breeze (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare), who are moving to Asia for Jack’s new job. Not long after being in the land, Jack’s morning walk to get a newspaper results in him racing back to his hotel, following an all-out war between law enforcement and natives in the cluttered streets. Riots, looting, and inexplicable violence break out in the streets and Jack and his family must find a way to Vietnam where they can declare asylum. They seek out the help of Hammond (Pierce Brosnan, who provides darkly comic relief in many scenes), a skilled survivalist who is seen traveling on the plane with them to Asia, who assists in finding them temporary places to stay amidst all the madness.

No Escape
Directed by
John Erick Dowdle
Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Owen Wilson
Release Date
26 August 2015
Steve’s Grade: B-

Assertions have flown over the alleged “racism” of No Escape‘s story, due to the negative portrayal of Asian natives and the constant danger and sanctity of this white family being challenged, in addition to being the prime concern, throughout the course of this picture. I bring this up not to challenge the position, for it is somewhat valid, but how come films like Taken, which is operating on the same playing field as this film, isn’t as slammed as this film is? Was that picture just too entertaining for the subtext to be noticed, or were we too distracted by Liam Neeson in that film to really care?

No Escape, however, can claim more than Taken can as film because No Escape‘s strengths come in the regard of its editing and camerawork, two things I was worried about walking into this film. Chaotic action films like these are ripe for sloppy aesthetics, which can, in turn, ruin any ability to see the action, let alone really care about what is happening to the characters. Dowdle and editor Elliot Greenberg are smart about how they shoot and edit this film, never settling for anything other than shots and editing tactics that allow for immersion and clear placement for the audience. In addition, Greenberg’s editing provides some elements of structural pacing, which work to No Escape‘s favor, especially during the more chaotic scenes.

The only element that subtracts from what No Escape does so uniformly well with its aesthetics is the convenience of the plot. Throughout the film, characters are put in compromising positions, including one scene at the end that comes so close to making this film great and almost entirely amoral, but finds ways through miraculous scenarios to get them out of harm’s way in the nick of time. This ostensibly comes from writers John Erick and Drew Dowdle’s dueling desire to up the film’s stakes but simultaneously back down and not make things too drastic. For as heartless as some scenes of the film can be, it would’ve only been fitting to see some of the more serious, morally corrupt scenarios to follow through.

No Escape still works as a basic, fulfilling film; a pulsating action film with various elements of a thriller directed by someone with an evident list of ideas and edited by someone who understands the value of pacing and crystal-clear editing.