If it’s not a tsunami destroying Thailand’s coastline and keeping one family apart in THE IMPOSSIBLE, now it’s a coup d’état threatening to decimate another in NO ESCAPE. Though no country is specifically named in the latter (Thailand stood in as the filming location when Cambodia wasn’t available), this film shouldn’t be seen as a travel ad. The pulse-pounding action-thriller is an incredibly intense and visceral experience that coerces audiences into a state of high anxiety – at least it did for me.
Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) is just trying to do right by his family: after his labor of love business failed, he took a corporate gig bringing water to the “fourth-world” country’s impoverished people. He’s uprooted his long-suffering wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters – Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) – from Austin and set them up at nice albeit decaying hotel in the middle of the bustling city. Kindly stranger Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), a new friend they met on the plane, is also staying there, and all seems well – until it’s not. Whilst out at the market, Jack witnesses a violent clash between militant rebels and law enforcement. Blood and brutality are on full display as the battle spills into the main streets, and eventually into the Dwyers’ safe hold. A race against the clock then ensues for Jack to get his family to safety.
Co-writer-director John Erik Dowdle, with help from his co-writer brother Drew, create an atmosphere of unrelenting suspense bolstered by resonant, logistical set-ups. Where do you find sanctuary in a strange place? How does one navigate unfamiliar turf and language boundaries? What happens if you need to pee or get hungry during a pursuit? It’s much more believable watching Wilson struggle to find his hotel than it is watching Tom Cruise expertly navigate Chinese streets in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3. The Dwyers’ feeling of displacement and isolation is palpable – as is the utter terror inherent to their ordeal. Perhaps one of the most terrifying scenes is when Annie is hiding in her room, hearing her neighbors slaughtered by the rebels. Sound design plays a big part in the suffocating dread. Later, there’s another nightmare-inducing sequence I don’t want to spoil (but the TV ads have), that involves the Dwyers getting from point A to point B in the most distressing way imaginable.
Also remarkable is that the Dowdles don’t shy away from having their hero get his hands dirty. The filmmakers wisely choose not to play it safe on a few occasions, which gives their film a crisp air of rebellion. Sure, there are moments where the script takes a couple unnecessary turns for dramatic appeal and contrived anxiety (like when Annie and one of the kids are put into gratuitous peril for peril’s sake). But overall, it remains relatively unscathed by those time wasting scenarios.
NO ESCAPE effortlessly succeeds at being equal parts horror, action-adventure and 90’s throwback popcorn panic flick – the kind of film Sly, Bruce or Arnold would have also nailed. Though it does take bold and fantastical steps making another country the savior (a country rarely seen as “the heroes” in cinema), the film’s unexpected nature puts it worlds above the schlocky hook of the logline. The Dowdle brothers can sleep easy knowing that, if nothing else, they’ve crafted an effective and entertaining teaching tool for travelers headed to Southeast Asia or any politically unstable region of the world.
4 out of 5
NO ESCAPE opens on August 26.