Despite its incredibly generic title and direct-to-DVD status, No Escape is a surprisingly effective thriller elevated by its above-average cast and fuelled by its ability to maintain tension from start to finish. Director John Erik Dowdle is no stranger to lacing his films with palpable tension (the found-footage horror outing Quarantine and M. Night Shyamalan produced thriller Devil are two of his most noteworthy credits) so the plotline of an American family marked for death in a foreign country is one easily handled with the director, and his co-writer brother Drew Dowdle, presenting us with a seriously slick production that appears far more monetarily supported than what the filmmakers actually had to work with.
In an unconventional casting decision Owen Wilson leads the charge as Jack Dwyer, an American flying to an unspecified country in Southeast Asia to start his job with Cardiff, an American company specialising in water systems. Travelling with wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) their arrival is almost immediately compromised when the hotel they are staying in is stormed by violent rebels who execute any foreigners they find. The film wastes little time in getting to its various set-pieces but both Jack and Annie are fleshed out enough that when the carnage starts you feel like you know these characters well enough to truly care for them in this horrific situation.
It would be easy to argue that No Escape could be deemed quite racist as it depicts the rebels as rather mindless and seriously brutal people, but I don’t think that was the intention here at all as the film appears more as an excuse to ground its action-thriller mentality in something that could feasibly happen, playing on westerners ethnocentric fears in the meantime. The addition of Pierce Brosnan as an ex-pat (a shady one at that) allows the Dowdle’s the opportunity to sprinkle some political commentary into proceedings too, his character admitting his role in western governments economically enslaving nations such as the non-descript one here.
But before you think No Escape is too heavy for its own good, it’s an action film at the end of the day, complete with enough unsettling brutality to earn its healthy adults-only rating. There’s nothing overtly phony about what Wilson and Bell’s characters have to do to keep their family safe, with one sequence involving the two throwing their daughters from one rooftop-to-another one of the more tense sequences I have viewed in recent memory; even if the over-use of slow-motion slightly cheapens the overall effect.
For an unfamiliar title that bypassed Australian cinemas (despite a relatively profitable run in the U.S. where it played in theatres) No Escape is a far better film than it should be. It’s well crafted, well-acted, and worthy of a rental over many of its genre counterparts.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Unsurprisingly the DVD release comes with little padding – no obligatory trailers or behind-the-scenes fluff piece here – but the inclusion of feature-length commentary from the filmmaking duo of John Erik and Drew Dowdle is enough of a perk. The duo speak rather enthusiastically about their film, offering up consistent slices of interesting background information.
Special Features Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)