Jessica Scott describes No Exit as a brutal thriller with more twists and turns than a mountain road.
Taut and delightfully nasty, No Exit is a thriller with more than a few surprises up its sleeve. A snowstorm meets a ticking clock to create a nightmare scenario that will keep the viewer’s blood pressure up, and genre fans will find plenty to love as the twisted narrative unravels.
Darby (Havana Rose Liu) is in rehab for the seventh time. She is estranged from her family, but when she gets a call letting her know that her mother is in the hospital with a brain aneurysm, she breaks out of her Sacramento rehab facility and steals a car to get to the hospital in Salt Lake City as quickly as she can. Before long, however, a snowstorm leaves her stranded in a mountainside rest stop with four strangers. When she ventures out into the parking lot to try to find a cell signal, she discovers a van with a little girl named Jay (Mila Harris) wearing a medical alert bracelet who is tied up inside. Already on the run from the police and unable to call anyone for help, Darby has to figure out who kidnapped Jay and how to free the sick girl without giving herself away to the kidnapper.
The ruthless narrative of No Exit has more twists and turns than the mountain road Darby drives on, leaving the viewer guessing right up until its final moments. Written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, based upon the novel of the same name by Taylor Adams, the film plays with the viewer’s expectations at every turn, building its tension to oppressive levels. After Darby discovers Jay, she has to return to the interior of the rest stop. She plays a card game with the other travelers: Sandi (Dale Dickey), Ed (Dennis Haysbert), Ash (Danny Ramirez), and Lars (David Rysdahl). Darby bluffs her way through the game while subtly interrogating each person to see whose story matches the license plate on the back of the van, setting off a nail-biting night of fear and deception.
Director Damien Power makes the most of the limited location, turning shots of an unassuming rest stop and a snow-covered parking lot into nerve-racking cat-and-mouse scenes. Frequent shots of the van ratchet up the unease, making sure the viewer never loses sight of the dropping temperature and Jay’s life-threatening illness as Darby desperately tries to come up with a plan. Simon Raby’s cinematography particularly shines in the snowy scenes. A wide shot of the kidnapper silhouetted against the rest stop carries a heavy menace. A view of the sky from the ground as police lights flash red and blue against the falling snow makes the viewer’s heart catch in their throat with anticipation to see who will make it out alive. A tracking shot of a blood trail in the snow is agonizingly patient as it waits to reveal a character’s fate.
The cast is strong, with each character drawing the viewer in while also keeping them guessing. Dickey and Haysbert are especially impressive as a couple with a long history and more than a few cracks showing in their relationship. Liu carries the film well, walking the tightrope between her own lies about her identity and her pursuit of the truth in order to save Jay’s life.
No Exit truly lives up to its name, making the viewer feel like there is no good way out of this situation for any of its characters. It's a welcome shocker in a genre that thrives on keeping its audience guessing. With crisp writing, intelligent direction, thrilling cinematography, and compelling performances, the film takes viewers for a satisfyingly mean ride.
No Exit is now streaming on Hulu.