No Escape (2015) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenplay: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Review published August 26, 2015
Originally titled The Coup, then changed after wrap to No Escape, my choice for the most appropriate title for this abhorrent film about an American family caught in the maelstrom of a third-world revolution would be, succinctly, Revolting.
Owen Wilson (Secret of the Tomb, Inherent Vice) stars as hydraulic engineer Jack Dwyer, who is relocating from Austin, Texas to a bustling it in an unnamed country in southeast Asia (it's filmed in Thailand) with his wife Annie (Bell, Million Dollar Arm) and two young daughters for a desperately needed job opportunity to work for a company that's supposed to be helping the country supply potable water to their masses. Fish-out-of-water problems take a backseat when a coup breaks out in the country, turning violent and brutal, especially against Americans, whom the locals blame for their issues.
Directed and co-written by John Erick Dowdle (As Above So Below, Quarantine), also scripted by his brother, Drew Dowdle, the film opens up in good form, establishing the family, their plights, and reasons for both hope and fear in their new environs. What follows is like an exploitative version of The Impossible, except not based on real events, real people, or even a cautionary one that could presumably happen in the future. It's merely an excuse for horror-flick levels of violence, injecting some murky political subtext as it descends into a family running for their lives while witnessing graphic murder and mayhem around them for ninety minutes.
The movie really jumps the shark during an shockingly asinine scene involving the wife jumping a seemingly impossible distance from the roof of one building to another, while Jack's idea is to hurl (yes, THROW!) the two daughters across that same impossible distance for his wife to catch on the other side before he decides to make the leap himself. Shaky, handheld camera shots perpetuate the film's cinematography, which can be effective in some scenes, but makes things difficult to establish in others. Dowdle's employing of slow-motion from time to time is always ill-advised, as the use of it neither helps us learn anything more about what's going on when it's employed, nor does it actually add grit or tension either. more often than not, it's distracting and takes us completely out of the movie to assess the filmmaking technique, often to disfavor.
When things are mellow, the acting is fine, but as the tense situations ratchet up, Wilson and Bell get in way over their head in making their actions, which they usually have to voice out loud for those in the audience who must truly be clueless, and their reactions to the horror around them seems absolutely implausible given the overall gruesomeness of it all. The kids, while serious as they should be, seem to be nonchalant about it at times, regardless of how many innocent bystanders are shot, hacked or bludgeoned without mercy before their very eyes.
Despite the decent opening half hour, Dowdle's film begins to descend almost immediately once the coup stats, and then gets progressively more frustrating as it goes along, eventually dipping down to becoming utterly repugnant for its final half hour, which features, among other things, eating a dog, a husband forced to watch his wife potentially get raped (you have to marvel at the libido of the perpetrator to be able to make this happen on the spot), and a young girl being forced into shooting her father in the face with a pistol at point blank range by some of the rioters. Given that they're both going to die, what's the point of having this scene play out except to push audience buttons in the most lurid and sickeningly exaggerated of ways possible? It should be noted here how aggressively imbecilic this film is when hundreds, if not thousands of rioters are taking over all streets within the city, and yet the Dwyers always seem to encounter the same small faction of them no matter where they go around the city.
Sometime late into the film, we discover the reason for the coup, involving water rights and the locals pissed off that they're losing the fight to hoodwinking Western influences, such as a water corporation like the one Dwyer just got hired at. That this movie actually tries to push forward the notion that these raping and pillaging horde actually has noble intentions of self-preservation involved smacks of disingenuousness, given that they could just hold these Americans hostage to hold out for their rights instead of raping women and slaughtering children, and effectively start an all-out war with powers that will destroy them to the point where they will lose all claim to their own sovereignty over anything, much less utility rights. Plus, given that the makers of the movie are too afraid to ruffle anyone's feathers by attaching such political unrest to any specific country, person, or ideology, we just have to accept wholesale that somehow there is a major network of killers armed to the teeth that masterminded this coup seemingly without a unifying force, vision or figurehead to lead them on.
And, in one of the movie's many pea-brained of moments, you know they are pissed at Jack in particular because one of the myriad of murderous rioters around the city just so happens to be carrying the large banner put up by the company with his picture on it announcing his representation when they stumble upon him, to which we're treated to him pointing at said sign, then pointing at said Jack. Given we've already established they they are set on massacring ALL Americans they encounter, this little personal addition is beyond pointless for the story to relate.
Then it gets worse, as Hammond (Brosnan, The November Man), the mysterious well-traveled British hedonist that Jack encounters on their flight in to the city, also happens to, like the small group of rape-y rebels, continuously encounter the Dwyers at various point throughout the city as if he were an omniscient guardian angel who can just appear for give the family an escape from every unwinnable situation the story presents them with.
Meanwhile, Jack keeps telling his family they need to trust his moronic instincts to continue to put them directly in harm's way through stampeding revlutionists, instead of telling them to lay low when they've finally arrived in a secure location already visited and plundered by the rebels, until the bloodthirsty rioting dies down, or the cavalry is called in. Since the Dowdle's really, really want to continue spoon-feeding us depraved levels of gut-churning violence, Jack Dwyer has to continue to take his family through stampedes of the worst of their enemies, all in the name of grand-scale thrills and entertainment value, all the way until the finale that involves one more moronic kick to the head in seeing representatives from one Asian country shouting warnings at people they don't know the nationality of completely in English.
No Escape is a pointless excuse of a movie that pretends to have something important to say, yet doesn't really want to say anything except in the most vague of terms in order to deliver what the Dowdles really want to give us, and that's copious and purely exploitative depictions of senseless and nauseating butcherings for us to be "entertained" by. Luckily for those stuck at a screening of this film, there are a few handy means of escape from its abhorrence; just look for the EXIT sign somewhere in the theater and walk through it at the first instance in which you think things are about to take a turn into garbage filmmaking of the lowest order. Keep walking, and don't look back. It never gets better, trust me.
©2015 Vince Leo