A simple yet terrifyingly believable and relevant story; performances that capture the sheer terror of the situation; direction that places you at the centre of an unfolding crisis: No Escape is a truly exhausting viewing experience. It’s also fantastically enthralling.
Hours after landing in an unnamed South Asia country that is to be their new home, Jack (Owen Wilson) and Annie (Lake Bell), along with their two young daughters, find themselves in the midst of a revolution. Armed rebels are patrolling the streets and attacking anyone who they perceive to be the enemy, with special, fatal attention being paid to any foreigners. One way or another Jack and his family must find a way out.
After an opening fifteen minutes with some fairly sedate scene setting, No Escape sets off at a hurricane-like pace that doesn't let up until the final few moments. Disturbing, uncomfortable but utterly engaging throughout, this is a film that contains more squirm-inducing, hold-your-breath scenes than you will find at an entire horror festival. This, combined with an emotional rawness that is strangely relatable despite how extreme the situation may be, makes the film reluctantly entertaining and unbearably watchable.
Director John Erick Dowdle has a background in making films at the better end of the found footage spectrum, and this style of direction clearly influenced his work on No Escape. Filmed using hand held cameras, Dowdle places the audience in the middle of the action and creates a sense of fearful mystery as you experience events in real time with the family. The performances in that central unit are superb, with both Wilson and Bell captivating, but it is the two young girls that deserve most credit. Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare have fear etched so deeply into their innocent expressions that you have to remind yourself this is only acting. With Pierce Brosnan making an impressive, if slightly exposition-heavy appearance as a shadowy government agent, this is an ensemble cast without weakness.
It is difficult to satisfactorily convey just how suspenseful this film is. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter’s classic Escape from New York and Oliver Stone’s Salvador, No Escape manages to surpass both in delivering gruelling tension. This isn’t a film to watch repeatedly, but it is certainly one you should watch a least once.
NO ESCAPE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOHN ERICK DOWDLE / SCREENPLAY: JOHN ERICK DOWDLE, DREW DOWDLE / STARRING: OWEN WILSON, LAKE BELL, PIERCE BROSNAN, STERLING JERINS, CLAIRE GEARE / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 11TH