No Escape is a sensationalist film with questionable racial overtones. But it is also utterly gripping and visceral. There are moments of dread that will have your eyeballs glued to the screen. The nightmare scenario it depicts is so terrifying, even the most skeptical viewer will be enthralled. No Escape is brutal, no holds barred; with disturbingly realistic violence. The trailers only hint at the carnage that awaits. Writer/director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) takes his horror roots to a riveting new level.

Owen Wilson stars as Jack Dwyer, an engineer starting a new life with his family in Asia. His wife (Lake Bell) isn't happy leaving their lives behind, but she puts on a brave face for their plucky daughters (Claire Geare, Sterling Jerins). The film begins with the Dwyer family in flight and encountering a cheerful passenger (Pierce Brosnan). Who is kind enough to give them a ride to their hotel, when Jack's company mysteriously doesn't pick them up at the airport.

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Settled into their suite, the Dwyer's hear thunderous noises in the distance. The phones aren't working. The internet and cell service is down. The television is static. The following morning, Jack ventures outside to pick up an English newspaper. Then the horror of their situation becomes apparent. The country is in revolution. Bandana clad rioters are attacking the police, killing tourists, and the locals that cater to them. Jack barely gets back to the hotel before it is under siege by the rebels. He races to the room to get his family, but is horrified that his oldest daughter has gone swimming in the hotel pool. Surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies in a strange and hostile environment, the Dwyer's embark on a primal journey to survive.

No Escape is very effective in drawing you into the moment. The tension is expertly calculated. Chaos and violence come in every direction. The unexpected, merciless nature of each scene crashes into you like a wave. There is a particularly harrowing scene where Jack is forced to throw his daughters from a rooftop. The sheer panic from the children will hit you like a punch in the gut. Literal gasps were coming from the audience in the theater. This may seem like a cheap gimmick. But it is not. The premise is clear. This family is a target. They will be killed, and not quickly, if caught. Jack's constant refrain to his terrified children is that they must always be ten steps ahead.

The savagery depicted is all the more troubling because the children are front and center. I've already revealed one spoiler. But trust me, it gets much worse. The climax with the daughters is very disturbing. The sad irony is that the violence here isn't a fantasy. From Isis to Boko Harem, the idea of children being used as pawns in conflict is prescient. The performances from the child actors are first rate. The filmmakers and the adult ensemble are excellent in framing the younger performers. There isn't a second of No Escape that I found the players unbelievable.

The racial disparity of the film has to be addressed. The Dwyer's are a white family in an Asian country. You're never told where they are, but the assumption is Thailand. There are no Asian characters of substance, except for the token, selfless sidekick (Sahajak Boonthankit). Every other Asian is either killing, getting killed, or extras. I firmly understand that the draw of this movie is the perilous fish out of water scenario. But it would have been nice, and a little politically correct, to have Asian characters of substance. I truly believe you could have the same plot with genuine Asian parts.

No Escape is a pleasant August surprise. It is a rollercoaster thriller to the core. Dowdle's script, direction, slick use of slow motion, and a capable cast make No Escape a must see. Although, I'm very curious to see how this film is received abroad. It may be broadly stigmatized for its racial perspective.

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Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman