No Escape, which follows an American family trying to survive in an unnamed Asian country after a violent coup, is another entry in that rather dubious unofficial sub-genre that focuses on the plight of privileged white Westerners in a disaster-struck third world country while barely acknowledging the locals caught up in the same situation (see also The Impossible).
In its favour it barely pauses for breath long enough for you to dwell on that imbalance too much as John Erick Dowdle delivers a gripping and tense thriller for the most part.
That oddly turns out to be both its main flaw and its biggest virtue. As it is almost constantly on the move, the weaknesses are easier to overlook. Unsurprisingly when it does briefly pause for breath it is noticeably less assured. The downside of this relentless pace is that the local natives are either one dimensional bloodthirsty killing machines (and at one point, potential rapists) or faceless corpses. There's no interest in their side of the story.
A late speech by Pierce Brosnan's character that tries to paint Western capitalist companies as the bad guys and the violent locals as parents similar to the central characters also just trying to protect their own children, is both too little too late and not entirely convincing.
If you can overlook all that (and plenty will) and judge it on its merits as a thriller, then it's a little harder to dismiss.
The set pieces and confrontations are expertly executed, the kind of scenes that terms like 'nail-biting' and 'holding your breath' were coined for. Years working on horror films like Quarantine and So Above, So Below that threw characters into similar if more fantastical situations, serves Dowdle well here in terms of atmosphere and maintaining a constant state of fear and dread. Though while one dimensional monsters can work in that genre, here it's a little more troublesome.

Atypical Hollywood casting turns out to be surprisingly effective as well. Both Owen Wilson and Lake Bell are better known for their more comedic roles, which makes their transformation into desperate characters willing to do whatever they can to protect their family all the more interesting. In contrast Pierce Brosnan gets a role with more humour than you'd expect as a shady Cockney who comes to the aid of the family on more than one occasion. He's clearly enjoying the chance to play a larger than life character and the film picks up a little whenever he's on screen chewing up the scenery. Sadly that isn't nearly enough.

Morally dubious with a fair few plot holes and contrivances, No Escape is nonetheless a competent and efficient thriller that does exactly what it sets out to do and does it well. Some will find it easier to overlook the slightly nasty taste it leaves in the mouth afterwards more than others however.


Review by Kevin Knapman


No Escape (15)

1h 43m


Director: John Erick Dowdle

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Owen Wilson, Lake Bell


UK Release: Friday 4th September 2015