Moviegoer: No Exit

A snowbound stop turns deadly in this locked-room thriller

By Diana Beechener

Rehab isn’t working for Darby (Havana Rose Liu: The Sky Is Everywhere). She’s been through the system several times, and her latest court-ordered stint in a facility isn’t making anything better. She’s given up on the idea of recovery and sulks through group meetings.

         When she finds out her mother is possibly dying of a brain aneurysm and she won’t be allowed to see her, Darby decides that going back to jail is worth a chance to make peace with her family. She breaks out of rehab, steals a car, and starts the long drive to Salt Lake City, with dreams of reconciliation in her head.

         Unfortunately, the only thing Darby finds on the road to her family is snow. A blizzard has descended upon the Northwest, making roads impassable. She’s given two options by the police officer closing the road: Go back to the nearest town or seek shelter in a nearby national park welcome center.

         Knowing that going back surely means a jail sentence, Darby chooses the welcome center. The deserted center is in the middle of the woods, and already bustling with four people waiting out the storm. Darby settles in, hoping to get more news about her mother’s condition. On one of her trips outside in search of a phone signal, Darby sees movement in one of the cars.

         A little girl is bound and gagged in the back of a van. Terrified, Darby must now figure out which of the four people she’s spent the evening with is a kidnapper, and who she can trust to help her save the child.

         No Exit is an ambitious thriller that sometimes gets a little too grand with its ideas. The film feels like a throwback potboiler, but has an innate sense of style and humor that keeps it from being hackneyed. Director Damien Power (Killing Ground) makes the most of the snowy setting with some great tense scenes involving card games. Power has a good sense of character, and allows the stranded ensemble enough time together before the action begins so that the audience cares about the stakes. Cinematographer Simon Raby (The Girl on the Bridge) helps Power make the most of his atmospheric setting by filling the scenes with frigid, stark whites and greenish fluorescents.

         The film also has a couple of gnarly violent sequences—including one that had this hardened horror fan squirming. So be aware before you start the movie that this isn’t a bloodless whodunit. The violence and brutality of the film—and its inherent oddball sense of humor—really helped to distinguish what might have been a predictable story.

         While the story itself is enjoyable, it’s also overstuffed. The Achilles heel of No Exit is Power’s need to add twist after twist in an effort to keep the story fresh. The problem with cramming your thriller with twists is that it begins to erode the tension. By the fourth twist, things stop being surprising and start getting silly. Small budget thrillers tend to do better with stripped-down plots, their simplicity allowing for the filmmaking to shine. While No Exit doesn’t quite fall into ridiculous territory, the plot begins to beggar belief in the last act.

         Keeping things from veering too far off the rails is a fantastic acting ensemble. Liu offers a strong, subtle performance that keeps the movie running. Her Darby is incredibly damaged, but still determined. Her understated reactions are perfect for a movie banking on quiet tension. Though she appears fragile, Darby has real steel when pushed which makes her a compelling lead. Veteran character actors Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert are on-hand to effortlessly infuse scenes with humor and pathos—Haysbert, in particular, has a great rapport with Liu’s Darby.

         If you’re a fan of atmospheric thrillers, No Exit is a great way to spend 90 minutes. It’s great light fare for those readers who may not be ready to spend three hours in a theater to watch The Batman. Snuggle up on the sofa with a warm blanket and a few snacks to enjoy this tense snowy flick.

Good Thriller * R * 95 mins.

No Exit is available on Hulu.