NO ESCAPE (4 out of 10) Directed by John Erick Dowdle, Written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, Starring Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Owen Wilson, Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language, 103 minutes, In wide release August 26, 2015.
Imagine a zombie movie, with a family on the run from impending death on all sides — the same casual violence used to dispatch the undead as you would expect in a movie of this sort. Now imagine all of those deaths were people. Therein you have both the strengths and biggest flaws of “No Escape.”
Owen Wilson and Lake Bell are an America couple, with their two kids in tow, relocating to an unnamed Southeastern Asian country. While on their plane, they befriend a suave, rugged Pierce Brosnan, who helps them get settled into their hotel. No sooner are they there than all hell breaks loose. A coup has destabilized the country, and rebels are killing any foreigners they can find. They must find a way out or die.
It’s an intense ride, to be sure. But, as stated before, human life is treated like less than chattle. This film is needlessly bloody, and in disturbing and troubling ways. A rape scene done for little more than a “women in refrigerators” moment would be troubling enough.
But the fact that executions of white characters are treated as tragic horror, while the deaths of native (nameless) Asian characters are treated with so much casualness that you would assume they were just traded out for the undead antagonists in a zombie movie.
The film unintentionally seems to communicate that #WhiteLivesMatter.
Which is all a shame because the film is put together incredibly well. The lead actors deliver great performances for the most part, especially Lake Bell. The editing and pacing are superb. It creates a visceral tension that keeps ratcheting up until the final denouement. There is real peril and we have no idea if or how our main characters will survive.
The problem with this tension is it literally doesn’t let go. Interstitial scenes between the family members are supposed to provide some comic relief or backstory, but the situation is so dire, you can’t help but nearly yell at the screen, “Stop reminiscing and joking around! They’re coming for you! Hurry up!”
The end result is a ratcheting up of intensity that doesn’t let the audience ever exhale in relief. It also doesn’t lead to anything, except perhaps a tension headache, which may be the film’s biggest failing. This could almost be forgiven, if Brosnan doesn’t spend an entire minute during the third act delivering a political message. He grinds the film to a complete stop as James Bond himself lectures us about the dangers and uselessness of Western military and corporate intervention in the developing world. What might have been a poignant (and true!) message is delivered with such heavy hands that it will make you wish for the subtlety of the rape scene.
Despite the technical prowess and intensity displayed here, it ends up being unsatisfying and more problematic than it’s worth. Other issues aside, the filmmakers needed to employ more subtlety, especially when deciding to include a rape on screen, and perhaps some racial sensitivity that doesn’t treat its antagonists as simply nameless, faceless zombies that deserve to die so our white heroes can escape.
4 out of 10