Directed By Damien Power
Starring – Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl
The Plot – A young woman (Liu) breaks out of rehab and hot wires a car so she can visit her sick mother, gets stuck with a group of people at a mountain rest stop during a blizzard. Things take a turn for the worse when the young woman discovers a kidnapped child in a car belonging to one of the people inside, putting the group in a terrifying life-or-death situation as they struggle to escape while trying to discover who among them is the kidnapper.
Rated R for strong violence, adult language and some drug content
In only his second feature length film, Damien Power has managed to prolong the lifespan of the whodunit? narrative with a collection of wild card characters and underlining motivations that constantly shifts and evolves the story in ways that practically demand audience investment. Power attains this quality not only in the measure of his picture-perfect pacing, which almost immediately sets the events in motion during the movie’s opening minutes, but also in relishing in the atmospheric ambiguity between a room full of strangers that seem to convey that anyone and anything can materialize at any given moment. Though this film is based off of a novel of the same name, there are more than enough films under this creative idea that have spanned a lifetime, most notably 2015’s “The Hateful Eight”, but what allows “No Exit” to stand on its own two feet is not that the revelation comes in the form of a murdered body, but rather a kidnapped child victim who is very much alive and very much part of the motivation that has made this conflict possible in the first place. It’s a unique spin because urgency still plays into the peril to save her while uncovering the who and the why that make up so much of the audience interest. On those impactful figures, the performances here are mostly hit than miss, but primarily the work of Ramirez is the evidential show-stealer, prescribing evolving characteristics and ocular depth in the visual acting that triggers familiarity in the emotions he calls upon for us to interpret instead of experience. Liu also dazzles, but in a way that is only evident when her character is put in physical peril, especially one stomach-turning scene involving a nail gun that earns every bit of its sought-out R-rating. Finally, the musical score here from the great Marco Beltrami elicits a tensely riveting enveloping for the story’s progression that never feels meandering nor intrusive on the shaping of the visuals, instead accommodating it for all of the dramatic impulses it bears so piercingly, with startling shrieking and strumming chords setting the stage. Like the expansive story that takes plenty of shifts and turns with these many unique dynamics, so too does Beltrami with some of his more eclectic work in a decade, springing forth an unshakeable layer of ominousness that permeates to operatic levels of palpable tension, all the while cementing a big screen circumstance to the movie’s presentation that is made bigger and better because of his audible influence.
Even if I didn’t know that “No Exit” spawned from a literary origin, the evidence of such is littered everywhere in elements of the storytelling that don’t necessarily translate well to the screen. Most notably is the limited characterization, which in our protagonist’s case tenders an abundance of wasted minutes and unfulfilled promises that prescribed confusion for the occasion. Early on, a subplot involving her battles with drug addiction is introduced, but then never further elaborated on as the plot unfolds. This is problematic because not only does it dramatically undercut her character arc in a way that never conveys a single instance of transformation that it certifies by film’s end, but it also makes its inclusion unnecessary to begin with. It’s strange because as the film persists, it starts to become more about the characters surrounding Darby rather than her, and when the script can’t flesh them out in a proper way that makes them compelling over mysterious, it points to an even bigger problem in selling its gimmick. This is in the mystery itself, which I found to be near-entirely predictable in its many twists and turns. This will be hard to believe for anyone who watches this film, but I accurately predicted the who, but never the why, and while the film seems to cast more importance on the latter, as evidenced by its revealing of the former midway through the film, the motivation fell flat for me. The “Who” in whodunits? are always the most intriguing part, and by selling this one so early on in the film, it has little else to fall back on creatively to maintain audience captivation. Finally, while I appreciated the film’s production for keeping the technical elements mostly subdued to never take away from the story, the editing here is amateur levels of convoluted essence. Two such scenes pertaining to character deaths completely overcomplicate visual deliveries and cuts that should be seamlessly elementary but are instead disorienting in ways that feel like two different takes of the same scene cut together to make one execution. Even after multiple rewinds entailing more determined focus, I still couldn’t properly interpret what happened, and if not for obvious dialogue conveying such insight into what just transpired, I may have been lost all together. It’s one of the only times where I appreciate spoon-fed dialogue, if even just for the open-door accessibility it gave to sequences that should be easy to properly interpret.
“No Exit” doesn’t quite reach the standards of alluring mystery established by its predecessors of the whodunit? subgenre, but it does offer enough compelling thrills, troubling chills, and body-stacking kills to properly pace a 90-minute run time with rapid fire intensity.
My Grade: 6/10 or C-