This week brings Hulu/20th Century Studios’ newest thriller, No Exit, to the streaming service. With plenty of thrills and tension, it still feels like its missing something.
Directed By: Damien Power
Written By: Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Starring: Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, Dennis Haysbert, Mila Harris, David Rysdahl, Dale Dickey
Release Date: February 25, 2022 exclusively on Hulu
Based on the 2017 novel of the same name, No Exit, puts Havana Rose Liu in the role of Darby Thorne who finds herself in the midst of a terrifying situation. Darby is currently in a rehad center, having suffered from a serious overdose, and is mostly estranged from her family. When she gets a call that her mother is in the hospital and not likely to make it much longer, she breaks out of the center and rushes off to see her (despite her sibling’s wishes).
The problem, however, is a massive blizzard that’s rolled in. On her way to the hospital, Darby’s journey is stopped when the massive snowstorm shuts down the roadways, leaving her and a group of strangers isolated at a nearby cabin/rest-stop for the night until the storm passes.
It’s bad enough, considering she wasn’t supposed to leave the facility in the first place (and could find herself in legal trouble) and there’s no telling how much longer her mother will hold out in the hospital. As she heads outside in search of some cellphone signal to get a message to her family, Darby discovers a little girl bound and gagged in the van next to her car.
One of the strangers she’s trapped with is a kidnapper. Without knowing who it is, Darby not only has to figure out who among them the kidnapper is, but also how to save the little girl without getting them both killed.
This is the basic idea behind the movie. I don’t want to go too much into spoilers here, so I won’t get into specifics on who’s who. That said, the story isn’t exactly the mystery it’s presented to be.
Without spoiling WHO, I will tell you that the mystery of the kidnapper(s) is solved within the first 20-30 minutes. Considering the trailer for the film presents this as the movie’s primary focus, it (understandably) came as a bit of a shock to see it as such a trivial point. That’s not to say it’s necessarily bad, but certainly changes the story from what many will be expecting.
There are still a couple unexpected twists in the latter part of the film, but the setup behind it doesn’t quite have the same impact. Because the mystery has already been dealt with, the next twist comes off as more forced than actually adding to the story being told. It’s just kind of weird, and a bit too convenient in a way that kills the suspension of disbelief.
That said, No Exit still manages to deliver some serious tension/suspense throughout. There were a number of times I found myself literally gripping the armrests, or squirming in my seat at the things going on. Between that aspect, which is excellently shot/edited together, and the actors all turning in solid performances, I honestly can’t say I was ever bored during the film. It kept me engaged and eager to see how things would resolve.
The problem, however, is it’s not something many are likely to revisit. While it brings the suspense/tension, the story itself leaves plenty to be desired. Mostly, this is due to certain character beats/subplots that simply don’t add to the film in a significant way.
Take Darby’s addiction, for example. It’s a key background element to her character, but aside from her initial “escape” and a couple mentions, it doesn’t really come up. It plays no role in the specific story being told, with the movie trying to force a connection that isn’t explained.
Hell, the book it’s based doesn’t even include this. In there Darby is merely a college student trying to get home to her sick mother. Considering how the movie’s plot does very little with the addiction subplot, it’s a wonder why that change to the story was made at all.
At most it feels like an attempt to expand the character beyond the narrow confines of kidnapping/survival story being told. It’s not a bad idea in general, but it just doesn’t work and feels tacked on. The result is a movie that feels like it runs out of gas at a certain point, and throws things back in to extend the run time.
This is another problem with eliminating the mystery element of the story. Having knocked that out of the way so early, the movie boils down to Darby having to survive the people now trying to kill her (while saving the child). That part is solid, and filled with great moments, but there are several points where it feels like it should have been “done.” But it wasn’t.
Again, it wasn’t boring, but I never felt any investment in the characters at these points. No Exit felt like it could have been a fantastic, super taught, hour-long thriller. Instead, it pads out the runtime with extras that don’t fit within the story; leaving me more disconnected from things.