Jared McMillan // Film Critic
Recently, I just got back from a vacation in Perth, Australia. It was a great experience and I’m glad
my fiancée made me go I made the trip. That’s not to say I didn’t have my hesitations. It was my first trip out of the country, my first trip to a new land, and my first foray into incredibly long flights. Furthermore, my fiancée would be working most of the trip, so I had to traverse the city alone during the day. Looking back on those hesitations after returning from Perth, I feel like a giant idiot. I had forsaken my normally open-minded views because of a fear of the unknown. I don’t know how the city will be on either side of the coin, so why must I immediately latch on the negative? Is it because I have been subconsciously trained to view America as the one and only good place on Earth? Or is it because I have seen films like NO ESCAPE that plague on the insecurities of being in a foreign land? Am I talking too much about myself? Probably, but it’s better to think about than thinking about the seething anger I had watching NO ESCAPE.
The film starts with the opening sequence detailing security measures within a palace, which is bathed in opulence on top of a hill courtesy of the establishing shot. The sequence concludes with an assassination of someone we will later find out is the Prime Minister of Mystery Asian Country (or MAC), and the title NO ESCAPE appears on screen. We then meet the warm American family The Dwyers, made up of Jack (Owen Wilson), Annie (Lake Bell), and their daughters Lucy and Beeze (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare); they are on a plane to MAC, where Jack has been hired as an engineer at a company called Cardiff. We also meet a friendly stranger named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who helps them get to the hotel because all cab drivers in the MAC are con artists (seriously). They are all very optimistic of the opportunity ahead of them, until the next morning when Jack goes a few blocks to get the paper and gets caught in a riot between local militants and MAC law enforcement. As Jack races back to his family, he sees an American executed by the leader of the militant army; he makes it to the hotel room and his family start planning their escape.
First of all, the movie is very intense. Director John Erick Dowdle has members of the family in almost every frame so that the audience doesn’t lose its connection to the characters. Also, there is excellent use of sound in order to keep the audience involved in the tension, specifically the sounds of rioting and gunfire off-screen. There is a lot of violence happening in the distance, either shown in long shots or having objects dividing the militants from the Dwyers. Also, there is a natural dialogue between each of the family members, often talking over one another, giving each other direction as they evade their would-be murderers. The performances are very well done, especially Lake Bell and Owen Wilson, thrusting you into the feel of desperation that these parents have come into as their hopes of a new start become hopes of not meeting a sudden end. The editing is also very crisp, using certain jump cuts to keep focus but make sure that there is no lull in the building action.
Because these things are so well done, when NO ESCAPE starts to prey on the audience’s emotions to trick their intelligence, I got incredibly angry and felt insulted. You know how I keep calling it Mystery Asian Country? IT’S BECAUSE THEY NEVER IDENTIFY IT. The end credits show that all of the militants have names, but I didn’t know that BECAUSE THEY ARE NEVER IDENTIFIED. We’re just supposed to know them as angry natives and accept that this could happen anywhere. It could, but you need to make the movie then about a family trying to a war zone, not “Jack works for an American industrial giant that placed the locals out of jobs, so now they want to kill Americans!” But, they just don’t kill Americans, the militants kill EVERYONE, which makes all of the violence void of meaning. When Dowdle and his brother Drew (they both penned the screenplay) have written themselves into a corner, they use Hammond to save the Dwyers. HE ISN’T USED ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE MOVIE. They should’ve just changed his name to Deus Ex Machina, it would’ve insulted our intelligence less.
NO ESCAPE was this close to becoming something of a summer surprise. All of the detail that was put into what’s on screen was deceived by a story that couldn’t just be contained to an escape thriller. Instead, we’re inundated with yet another “naïve white people in a violent, foreign land” trope. As soon as information comes out that Jack’s company Cardiff took over their water supply, I just kept thinking “How did he not have this information? How was there no notion of an uprising?” and it just made me angrier at the promise unfulfilled. While the Dwyers were still trying to escape, I just put my hands up and waited for someone to put me out of my growing misery.
NO ESCAPE opens in theaters tomorrow.