The 400-Word Review: No Escape
By Sean Collier
August 31, 2015
Few films in recent memory defy conventional moviemaking logic with the bewildering obliviousness of No Escape, a troubling shock-thriller from horror director John Erick Dowdle. The thought that swaths of people, from producers to agents to actors, believed that making this disgraceful film was a good idea is simply staggering.
Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) is a middle-management type down on his luck and relocating his family for a new job in a deliberately unnamed Asian country (meta-spoiler: the filmmakers would like you to believe that it is not Cambodia, but it's Cambodia). Inconceivably, Dwyer seems to have no concept of the political climate or current events of the nation he's bringing his family to; I don't think he's even clear on what his job is.
Had he bothered to Google anything before departing, he might've learned that a rebellion is brewing; less than 24 hours after the family's arrival, a seemingly endless group of fighters mounts an immediately-effective coup, angered over western intrusion into their livelihoods. Within moments, they begin executing Americans on the street. Despite it being painfully obvious, it takes some time for Dwyer to realize that his presence is what has enraged the mob.
It's so obvious as to almost be beside the point, but the basic premise is overwhelmingly xenophobic - and the argument could be made that it is profoundly racist as well. Save a few stray do-gooders, every non-white individual in the film is either a zombie-like monster or an uncharacterized victim. Yes, the violence does claim the lives of innumerable Asians, but we're asked to ignore these insignificant deaths to focus on the well-being of a moronic white family.
Push aside the depravity of No Escape's politics or the inanity of its story and you are left with little but exploitative misery porn. The film is little but sequence after sequence of Dwyer and his family - wife Annie (Lake Bell) and daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) - in horrible, unthinkable situations. No bit of unpleasantness is not on the table, from torture to child abuse to rape to lots and lots of murder; every few minutes, the Dwyers confront a horrific fate and escape by pure luck (or the occasional intervention of a British tough played by Pierce Brosnan).
I am at a loss in trying to picture the troubled individual who would actually want to watch scenes like these. Where even the worst excesses of gore-focused horror flicks can at least be generously regarded as creative in their Rube Goldberg methods of violence, No Escape simply focuses its perverse fascination on common, real-world tragedies - hoping to callously use them to con unsuspecting audiences out of their box-office dollars. It is the rare movie that makes me love cinema a little bit less, by demonstrating how the art form can be used for pure, indefensible evil. It is a black eye on all involved, and I'd like to offer my condolences to anyone unfortunate enough to see it.
My Rating: 1/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark