In a recent blog entry, I discussed the state of 20th Century Fox in the months immediately prior to December 2017, when their impeding sale to Disney became public knowledge. More specifically, I noted that the studio greenlit a number of franchise films in the Autumn of that year, even when the films in question didn’t seem to need or want a franchise. Turns out that wasn’t limited just to franchise films.

No Exit was adapted from a novel by Taylor Adams, and it didn’t exactly make any bestseller lists that I can find. The novel was published in June 2017, and optioned by 20th Century Fox four months later. So either the book was really that good… or Fox was anxious to greenlight any novel they could get their hands on for the sake of getting another film in the pipeline and thus boosting the asking price for the studio.

The film was directed by Damien Power, who’s done nothing else anybody would recognize (unless you saw Killing Ground when it came out in of course you’ve never heard of it). The film was written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, previously responsible for helping to write Ant-Man and the Wasp and basically nothing else. The biggest name in the cast is freaking Dennis Haysbert. Production wrapped in June of 2019, and it got dumped straight to Hulu in February 2022.

(CORRECTION: I’ve since confirmed that production actually wrapped in Summer of 2021.)

Everything about this screams “The studio didn’t care!”, and the reviews I’ve found for the original book show that the source material was no great shakes to begin with. Damn shame, because there really was some potential here.

We open with Darby (Havana Rose Liu), a recovering drug addict eleven days into a court-mandated stay at a rehab clinic. She gets the news that her mother is in the hospital with a potentially fatal brain aneurysm, but Darby’s family is still pissed at her for all the drug abuse and she’s stuck in rehab anyway. To spite all of that, Darby breaks out of the clinic and hijacks an orderly’s car to make her way out to the hospital.

Alas, Darby is caught in a terrible snowstorm and all traffic has been cut off. She’s diverted to a local park, where a visitors’ center has been opened up and made available for shelter until the storm blows over. This is where we meet the married couple of Ed and Sandi (respectively played by Dennis Haysbert and Dale Dickey), strung-out loner Lars (David Rysdahl), and potential love interest Ash (Danny Ramirez).

But then Darby finds a young girl (Jay, played by Mila Harris) tied up and gagged in a van in the visitors’ center parking lot. Which means that Darby is cut off from all contact with civilization and trapped in a snowstorm with a child kidnapper. Hilarity ensues.

On the surface, it’s a good premise for a suspense thriller. It certainly helps that the actors all turn in marvelous work with what they’re given — in particular, Havana Rose Liu carries the whole film pretty much on her own and I can only hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future. I might add that Damien Power proves himself to be a natural suspense filmmaker, with camerawork and editing that ramp up the tension nicely. What’s more, he shows a remarkable touch for escalating violence, building it up to a painfully bloody climax. It also helps that we’ve got a masterful score from Marco Beltrami, alongside longtime protege Miles Hankins.

But then we have the writing.

While the premise is certainly fantastic, the filmmakers (or more likely, the novelist of the source text) woefully mishandled it. Case in point: When we first learn about the kidnapped girl in the van, the big central mystery is the question of whose van it is. Half an hour into this 90-minute movie, we already have a definitive answer to that question.

On the one hand, I appreciate a smart and proactive protagonist who puts so much effort into deducing so quickly who the culprit is. On the other hand, when we already know who the culprit is before the plot’s picked up speed, there’s basically nowhere else to go.

As a direct result, the film spins its wheels through most of the runtime, desperately searching for any excuse to ramp up the tension. The good news is that the film does indeed keep building up the pressure at a consistent pace. The bad news is that it can only do so through the most flimsy and cliched ways possible. Granted, the workarounds are at least slightly more plausible than what I saw in Kimi, but the two films are definitely in the same class.

(Side note: Funny enough, both films make prominent use of a modified nail gun as a lethal weapon. Weird coincidence, that.)

But then we have that moment in the climax. I’ll do my best to put this as spoiler-free as I can, but no way in hell am I letting this go unaddressed.

Let’s rewind to the part where Darby — a recovering junkie, remember — breaks into an orderly’s car. While searching for the keys, she finds a stash of cocaine. To repeat, of all the cars our protagonist could’ve broken into, she picked the car that just happened to hide the cocaine stash of a nurse who works at a fucking rehab clinic. Let’s take a moment to let that marinate.

Flash forward to the climax. Long story short, Darby finds herself cornered and in mortal peril. And she gets out of this situation… by snorting the coke. Seriously, the recovering drug addict — whose entire family disowned her for doing drugs! — snorts a dime bag of cocaine so she has the strength to get out of a tight situation, and all that’s missing is the goddamn Popeye Theme.

That’s a dealbreaker. This has to be a huge fucking dealbreaker. Do I even need to explain why this is a dealbreaker? For fuck’s sake, when Wolf of Wall Street pulled this shit, they were at least self-aware enough to play it for comedy with the full knowledge that the characters are supposed to be unrepentant assholes with a penchant for self-destruction.

No Exit feels like The Woman in the Window all over again: A superb execution of a rotten story that falls apart beyond all hope of repair at the climax. It’s also rather telling that both were 20th Century Fox pictures that got dumped onto streaming platforms (away from Disney+, quite tellingly) after the Disney merger and the COVID pandemic.

But the big difference here is that The Woman in the Window had a surfeit of A-list talent and a reported $40 million budget to play with. And as much as I personally despise Joe Wright, he’s directed Best Picture nominees! For everything The Woman in the Window had, it felt like everyone involved should’ve known better. It should’ve either been much better or it shouldn’t have been done at all.

Compare that to No Exit. Though I can’t find any info regarding the budget, it’s got a cast and crew full of nobodies and I’d be amazed if it cost even $10 million to produce. For how little this movie had to work with and the shit the filmmakers took it on themselves to adapt, it’s frankly astounding the film turned out as well as it did. That’s not a recommendation for the film, because no way in hell can I bring myself to recommend it. Rather, it’s a vote of confidence in this same cast and crew, because I sincerely hope that they all get a shot at worthier material in the immediate future.

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1 thought on “Movie Curiosities: No Exit

  1. Sounds like this was one you really didn’t care for. And yes, a recovering junkie’s addiction being the key to getting out of a bad situation is in very questionable taste.

    Hopefully, the cast and crew will appear in better works, and regard this one as an Old Shame.

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