Film Review – ‘No Exit’ is a Claustrophobic Survival Thriller

Film Review – ‘No Exit’ is a Claustrophobic Survival Thriller
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

People rarely want to accept their circumstances when they’re not ideal.

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That may lead them to try to improve them or to give up altogether, less than confident that they will eventually get better. In times of desperation, those who believe they have nothing to lose may no longer regard rules and instead do whatever they feel is necessary to survive. In No Exit, a woman sets out to escape one prison only to find herself trapped in an even darker situation, one that offers few pathways to success and any sort of way out.

Darby (Havana Rose Liu) is reluctantly in rehab, and when she receives a call that her mother is in the hospital, she knows that she must get to her. The universe appears to be actively conspiring against her, forcing her to get creative in fleeing the rehab and then in ignoring her sister’s texts telling her that her mother does not want her to come. The worsening snowstorm proves to be too much, redirecting Darby to a highway rest area to spend the night. Already filled with anxiety, Darby discovers a young girl being held hostage in a van, and realizes that one of the people stranded with her must be the kidnapper.

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No Exit
Havana Rose Liu (Darby), shown. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

This film’s title is immediately reminiscent of a famous work with the same name, Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous 1944 play No Exit. While those characters are already dead, the notion that they are damned to suffer in each other’s company for eternity has some relevance in this adaptation of the 2017 novel by Taylor Adams, even if Darby’s fellow travelers aren’t entirely miserable. A round of the classic card game Bullshit reveals plenty about the five people seeking shelter from the snow, but it’s not enough to tell Darby who she can’t trust and who she can’t as she shifts her focus to saving this girl.

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What No Exit does well is to establish its contained environment. Darby is on her own from the start, and her odds of making it to Salt Lake City driving overnight even without weather conditions seem slim. Once she ends up at the rest area, the only other place to go is out into the storm, where cell bars may be attainable but freezing temperatures and a vast, near-invisible landscape await. Darby may have less to hide than the others, but she still has little interest in opening up to either the creepy and easily agitated loner or the friendly couple who like asking questions even to those who don’t want to answer them.

No Exit
Havana Rose Liu (Darby), shown. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

This film has a strong lead in Liu, an actress whose few credits include Mayday, which featured her as a memorable member of a determined team of women fiercely defending their territory against invading men. Liu proves just as capable all on her own in her first lead role, capturing Darby’s quick switch from selfishness to selflessness that compels her to do everything she can to help someone she doesn’t know, even while still processing devastating developments in her own life. Liu carries the film well and serves as an effective point of connection for audiences to enmesh themselves in this story.

Liu is surrounded by a cast that includes two veteran performers, Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert, who have turned in fine work for several decades, and newer talent like Danny Ramirez and David Rysdahl. This is not a film that demands extraordinary acting, merely the creation of a space that feels like it could exist, or at the very least that it could encompass the entire world for the span of one night. Even if some of its plot points aren’t ironclad, No Exit delivers consistent suspense and intrigue, a dark and involving thrill ride that should play well on television screens for its at-home release.

Grade: B

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

No Exit is streaming exclusively on Hulu.

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