Once Started There Is No Exit (2022) to Keep You Safe
Title: No Exit
First Non-Festival Release: February 25, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Damien Power
Writer: Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, Taylor Adams
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Starring: Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Confined to a rehabilitation facility, Darby (Havana Rose Liu) is notified by a friend that her mother is dying. She appeals to her sister to convince the facility to temporarily release her so she can see her mother in her final moments. Her sister refuses. This leads Darby to breaking out herself, stealing an orderly’s car, and braving a winter storm to get from Sacramento to Salt Lake City in time to see her mother. Unfortunately, the roads get too inundated with snow, and she must take shelter in a visitor’s center with four other stranded motorists. Once there she discovers that a child, Jay (Mila Harris) has been kidnapped and is hidden away in a van. Everyone is a suspect and Darby must figure out how to save the kid, and herself, from certain death.
No Exit is a single location survival film with enough twists to keep you guessing until the end.
For taking place primarily in a rest stop visiting center, No Exit feels spacious enough to give its characters enough room to carry out their mischief in exciting and dynamic ways. While it feels claustrophobic in its filming, it never feels confined in its setting or storytelling. Neat and precise camerawork add to that tense feeling. Director Damien Power never lets you forget how isolated and powerless the group is to the elements and each other. Beyond that, No Exit has plenty of gorgeous shots in the snowy mountains that get creative with lighting and framing of the escalating action.
No Exit has plenty of bold moves to play throughout its entirety. Perfectly paced, once the action gets started and the reveals materialize, the audience barely gets a moment to breathe. Plenty of pieces of dialogue foreshadow the true nature behind every person at the rest stop. Some of it is subtle enough to miss while others seem obvious. It’s nice that No Exit doesn’t play around with its audience too much and instead gives them exactly what they need just before they realize they need it. Aside from one clunky flashback sequence, most of the film unravels with finesse. Shocks and surprises come and go adding layers to the situation that make it more difficult for Darby to succeed.
Strong characters help solidify No Exit as a quality film. In these scenarios, it can be tempting to focus solely on one, maybe two characters, and let the antagonist pick everyone off one by one. No Exit opts to gradually unfurl every character into a more realistic and human version of themselves. Protagonists have weaknesses and faults. Some need money, some need drugs, and others don’t act fast enough. Antagonists, however, are developed with suitable qualities that complicate their mission. They feel and have their own goals for the night. It raises the stakes to flesh out the small cast of characters in a way that makes the story lively.
While the entire cast does great work, Havana Rose Liu steals the show as Darby. Darby is introduced as a bitter and tired soul, worn from hopping from failed rehab attempt to failed rehab attempt. She has disappointed her family so much that her sister tells her not to bother showing up to her mother’s side as she lays dying in a hospital two states away. It would have been easy for her to be a passive bystander when she found Jay, but she chose to make a difference. She’s resourceful and cunning without being a superhuman. She’s caring but not to the point where she’ll lose her head. Her journey with drugs even comes to a head while she’s in the middle of fighting for her life and the life of Jay. Liu brings all of this nuance to Darby that makes her not only likeable and a character to invest in but one that is compelling and dynamic.
It won’t set the world on fire, but No Exit is a quality crafted horror lite thriller that will keep you glued to the edge of your seat. Liu’s performance as the stubborn and guarded Darby elevates the film even higher than its picturesque mountainside setting. The supporting cast help stick the landing and make all of the turns feel worth it in the end. Throw in a great character arc devoted to self-forgiveness and No Exit gets to a level that most films of its stripes can only dream of achieving. Sit down and strap in for one great thrill ride that doesn’t need an exit plan.
Overall Score? 7.5/10