For maximum enjoyment of “No Exit,” I highly recommend you dive in knowing as little as possible. Even if you’ve read Taylor Adams’ 2017 novel, the film will be a different experience because the story translates so well to the screen. This dark thriller is horrific on multiple levels and is violent, challenging, and will make you squirm.
Darby (Havana Rose Liu) is on her way home to visit her dying mother in the hospital. A dangerous winter storm is approaching, and a police officer insists that she make alternate plans because the interstate will soon be shut down. With no other options, Darby decides to spend the night in a highway visitor’s center, where she’s stuck with a small group of strangers. There’s an awkward young man with a penchant for aggressive outbursts (David Rysdahl), a charming college student (Danny Ramirez), and a nurse and her retired Marine husband (Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert).
It isn’t an ideal situation to be in, especially with no cell service, no help for miles, and no way out until the blizzard passes. When Darby leaves for a moment to get some air and hopefully find a phone signal, she makes a shocking discovery in the parking lot: there is an abducted child (Mila Harris) in someone’s van. But who does the vehicle belong to, and who is the kidnapper?
It’s a terrific premise for a thriller as Darby tries to figure out who among them is a possible psychopath. It’s a frightening whodunit situation, and the tension is ramped up from the confined setting. It takes a while for the film to really get going, especially with a cast that lacks substantial star power, but the set up is solid enough to withstand the elements of the film that aren’t so successful.
It’s an interactive viewing experience that involves the audience with a “what would you do in that situation?” kind of story. You’ll spend the first part of the movie trying to decide who kidnapped the little girl, then figuring out what you’d to do help if you were stuck in a small space with three suddenly menacing strangers, none of whom you could trust. I do think director Damien Power spoils who the perpetrator is a little too early, but there are enough satisfying and surprising twists that more than justify his timing.
The performances are good, even if the project feels like a corny t.v. movie. The dialogue often doesn’t do the actors any favors, either. The story is one that seems as though it was easier to adapt to the screen than most because of the strong, basic premise. The threatening and intense situation is the perfect foundation for a thriller, especially as the story grows increasingly violent (and bloody). This is not a feel good film.
While it’s not an Earth-shattering achievement in filmmaking, “No Exit” kept me engaged and made me care — not so much about the characters, but it created a burning desire in me to get a clear resolution to the mystery. It’s a decent thriller with enough shocking surprise reveals to keep it interesting and entertaining, even if it’s tough to watch at times.