The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>NO ESCAPE</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - NO ESCAPE

An American family is caught up in a violent coup in an unnamed Asian country.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

Starring: Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Owen Wilson

"Relentlessly grim, and delivered at a cracking pace, No Escape's spiritual home is the drive-in, but it's worth catching at the multiplex too."

No Escape isn't a remake of the 1994 sci-fi prison break flick starring Ray Liotta, but rather a fish out of water and about to be gutted thriller pulled off with a lot of skill and a little xenophobia. The aforementioned fish are Americans Jack (Owen Wilson), his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters. They've emigrated to an unnamed country in South East Asia (though as we learn it borders Vietnam, it can only be either Laos or Cambodia) in order for Jack to supervise his company's takeover of the national water system, something the natives aren't too happy about. When the country's leader is assassinated by rebels opposed to this western intervention, a violent coup begins, with Americans summarily executed in the streets. The out of his depth Jack must somehow lead his family to safety.
Though not remotely based on any real events, No Escape is similar in many ways to 2012's tsunami drama The Impossible. Both films ask us to care solely about their white western protagonists while faceless Asians are swept away or gunned down in the background. Both are directed by filmmakers previously associated with the horror genre - The Impossible by The Orphanage's Juan Antonio Bayona, No Escape by John Erick Dowdle, who gave us a trilogy of found footage thrillers in The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine and As Above So Below. And both movies are nail-biting thrillers that successfully blend aspects of the disaster epic and the grindhouse horror movie.
Dowdle sets us on edge straight away by showing the beginning of the bloody coup before cutting back in time to the arrival of Jack and his family. It's a very simple means of generating suspense, but it works a treat. As Jack wanders the streets of his newly adopted home in search of an American language newspaper, we're filled with dread, knowing what's to come. When the coup begins, Dowdle doesn't hold back, the sun-baked streets running red with blood as an army of machete wielding killers run loose. It's down and dirty, old school exploitation filmmaking in every sense of the term, shot in Thailand using cheap labour and preying on our lizard brain fear of the other.
Though it's set in South East Asia, you can't help surmise the first draft may have taken place in the Middle East, as the rebels/villains behave a lot more like religious zealots than people simply angered by water privatisation. The film seems confused about the motives behind the coup and how to portray its antagonists. Pierce Brosnan's shady British spook tells us not to demonise the rebels, as they're simply fighting to save their families, but the film shows them taking extreme pleasure in slaughter, devising novel ways to kill westerners and any locals who provide assistance or shelter.
Such ill thought out politics make it easy to accuse the film of xenophobia, but this isn't The Killing Fields. The angry, bloodthirsty hordes here have more in common with the zombies of Dawn of the Dead or the mutants of The Hills Have Eyes than any real life inspired political movement. This is Dowdle transplanting the horror genre into the mainstream; when Owen Wilson crushes a man's skull to prevent him from giving away his family's hiding place, we can't help but think of all those timid, white, middle class males turned into vengeful killers in the pre-slasher era '70s. Relentlessly grim, and delivered at a cracking pace, No Escape's spiritual home is the drive-in, but it's worth catching at the multiplex too.