A recovering drug addict named Darby Thorne (Havana Rose Liu) makes a desperate run from her rehab center in order to see her sickly mother who has suffered a brain aneurysm. The hasty escape and some bad weather ends up trapping her in a situation that makes her question if it was right call. That’s the setup to No Exit, the Damien Power directed thriller now streaming on Hulu.
Darby ends up stuck in a desolate mountain rest stop with four strangers (Dale Dickey, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl) during a blizzard. That is in itself an uncomfortable situation, but when she finds a young girl (Mila Harris) tied up inside the van parked outside the building, she quickly realizes this is a much more undesirable situation than originally thought. Or so it should be.
The film follows the who-is-bluffing approach to storytelling found in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and John Carpenter’s The Thing, among others that better build off the premise. Maybe it is the familiarity with films such as those that prevent this film back from reaching the level of intensity required to make your heart race at the elevated rate expected. The script written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari starts slowly, retains a leisurely pace and then finally kicks into high gear for the last third.
For those first two thirds of No Exit I badly wanted to be on the edge of my seat as I played detective trying to figure out who is the real threat in a situation where everyone is a suspect. As the film continues the temp should shift along with it from a heated situation to a strong simmer to a heavy boil, elevating the level of claustrophobia and paranoia along the way. Instead it skips a step or two only retaining a tepid heat.
The film, adapted from the 2017 novel of the same name written by Taylor Adams, is short on the substance needed to make for a successful psychological thriller. What probably worked well as a page turner is lacking the layers when on the screen. We do not get into the characters’ heads to hear their inner dialogue. All we have to go off of is what is in frame which is less than viewers will probably be anticipating.
Working against it are some of the red herrings laid out for viewers. They feel like just that, obvious misdirects which reduce instead of raise the level of intrigue. The cleverest part of the script is that while these five strangers wait for the storm to pass, they play a game of cards called Bullshit where you try to bluff your way to victory. It is quite on the nose, but clever enough for a chuckle.
Once the violence and energy picks up the film makes for a much more thrilling watch. For some reason nail gun standoffs carry more resonance than other threats. When a hammer enters the picture the cringe level ups significantly making for some peek through your fingers moments. If only Power was able to tap into this energy throughout we could have had a wilder ride closer to a Ready or Not. Instead he pulls back the reins delivering an interesting tale but one that will quickly fade after viewing. His ambitions are too straightforward when a touch of camp or style would have worked wonders.
Havana Rose Liu delivers a promising breakout performance. While I would have liked to have seen her given more to work with, there is enough on screen to make her believable – someone to watch. The other standout is Rysdahl as the skittish Lars who injects a touch of unpredictability to a situation where more would be welcome. Haysbert and Dickey, character actors with long filmographies are good here even if underused here.
No Exit is fresh enough of a thriller to hold your attention captive if you do not have many viewings under your or if you have a quiet night in and are looking for a light watch where you can turn off your brain. For most the experience will feel more been-there-done-that the roller coaster or thrill ride desired. It struggles to reach peak height and while it delivers some fun twists and turns it is over before you know it.
I would not avoid making a pit stop to watch No Exit, because at barely 90 minutes there are less entertaining ways to spend your evening. At the same time, if you have other more highly recommended films on your list, you may want to hold out for the next rest stop.
No Exit is streaming exclusively on Hulu.