No Exit has a wonderful little crackerjack concept. A young woman is forced off a long drive to a rest stop by a severe blizzard. There are a few other folks also caught on the road by the storm and trapped at the rest stop. Circumstances fast reveal that one of the other strangers has a young girl locked in the back of his or her van. The blizzard, and rural setting, naturally knock out cell service so our heroine is left alone to try to rescue the girl and solve the mystery of the abductor’s identity
Havana Rose Liu (The Sky Is Everywhere) makes for a compelling lead. She plays the tension of the situation just right and has more than enough steely intensity as the film shifts from mystery to a more grindhouse territory. We’re introduced to her character, Darby, as she attends a meeting at a rehab facility. That she’s a recovering addict – just a few days sober – gives Liu a few extra beats to play in her performance. Liu is a magnetic presence on screen and I hope this role foreruns a star level career.
The suspects are played by Dennis Haysbert (24), Dale Dickey (Winter’s Bone), Danny Ramirez (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), and David Rysdahl (Nine Days). They bring four very different vibes to the table. The characters all get to know one another over a game of bullshit – it’s a silly, but effective, way to introduce each player before the action picks up. Each performer is given a few beats to establish his or her character’s essence. Haysbert and Dickey, playing a couple, are particularly effective. Haysbert’s natural charm brings a cheery element to the film while it’s fascinating to see Dickey play largely against type as someone who appears to be quite a bit warmer than her usual characters. That Liu has a very different chemistry with each performer helps better establish characters that might be a bit stock on the page.
I’ll admit I was surprised that the film transitions from a whodunit to something more action packed far earlier in the run time than I had anticipated. The small tight scale of the film makes the threat of the situation palpable. Director Damien Power (Killing Ground) is savvy at shooting action on a budget. He crafts his action sequences with a visceral, gritty energy and it’s extremely clear he’s comfortable in genre filmmaking.
The film takes on a nasty edge in the last act that I quite appreciated. The violence ratchets up to a pretty extreme level and the film absolutely refuses to pull punches. The trapped environment criminal subgenre – Bad Times at the El Royale is a good recent example – tends to work most effectively when the more extreme elements are well executed. Here the twists are fun and the gore effects are plentiful. I thought I had this one’s mystery figured out, but I was mistaken on how it would all play out. In a way, I think the film’s conclusion is the perfect resolution for this sort of story.
All told, No Exit is a taut, fun little genre thriller. The film wisely takes the right amount of time before ratcheting up the tension and builds in just enough character beats so that the consequences resonate when business picks up. Is No Exit going to win best picture next year? Of course not. That said, it’s an amusing way to spend an evening, assuming you’re at least slightly curious to see the creative ways a nail gun can be used on someone…
No Exit debuts on Hulu today, February 25, 2022.