In their new overseas home, Jack (Owen Wilson) and his family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape in an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed.
The film starts with a traditional and intriguing cold open, complete with a title screen harking back to the eighties or, more recently, 'The Raid' or 'The Guest'. What follows is a brief exposition-heavy respite through which to acquaint the audience to Jack and his family - his wife, Annie (Lake Bell), and their two children, the somewhat irritating and uncooperative Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and the adorable, precocious Beeze (Claire Geare) - as they themselves try to get acquainted with their new, strangely internet-and-phone-free environment. It's a sudden change that is unfortunately jarring, featuring taxi-drivers named Kenny Rogers, comedic culture-shock observations, and drunken karaoke, begging the question of whether this is a serious film or a slightly light-hearted romp.
It's a question that recurs throughout the early stages of the films runtime, as scenes stagger blearily from edge-of-the-seat tension to potentially inadvertent hilarity. If actually intentional, though, it's a move that could almost be considered genius, breaking the tension in laugh-out-loud fashion. If not, it's just further proof that the film would have benefited from a keener eye for detail.
Though largely described as an action-thriller in the same vein as 'Taken', it's hard to miss the leanings of the horror genre for which director John Erick Dowdle, along with his brother/co-writer Drew Dowdle, have become synonymous. Each scene and set-piece is packed with a constant sense of dread and fear, putting the survival instinct of the characters on perpetual red alert. In the age of the comic-book adaptation, it's quite rare to instil genuine fear for the safety and survival of the protagonists, but 'No Escape' manages it with ease. With some of the most terrifying moments brought to life on the big screen in recent memory - the scene in the bamboo garden and on the streets amid the rioters serving as a highlight of white-knuckle cinema - it drags the audience breathlessly to the edge of the seat. The lack of subtitles serves to add another layer of fear and confusion that places the audience right alongside the plight of the family and other victims.
Unfortunately, it's a feeling that fails to remain right up until the credits roll. Though the action and suspense is near constant, there is an unmistakable feeling of repetition. With the trope of the "friendly hostile" and "child running away into danger" rolled out on more than a few occasions. Though showing foreign people as something to be celebrated, as good and normal people, rather than entirely terrible soldier and terrorists is extremely refreshing.
The more personal moments also mostly fail to land, with the marriage troubles only touched upon rather than fully explored, and with an impressively natural performance by Claire Geare most successfully pluck the heart-strings. Owen Wilson does well with what he has, bringing his usual charm and wit and adding moments of levity, this time most definitely intentional, as well as demonstrating some considerable action and dramatic chops. Adequately taking the lead and exploring the extent ordinary people can and may go in protection of their family. Lake Bell performs similarly well, adding a depth of emotion and strength, most notably in the final act and during a brief monologue when the writing seems all but etched on the wall. But, overall, the material just isn't consistently there.
All in all, inconsistencies aside, there is quite a bit to love about 'No Escape', especially for fans of poignant, almost true-to-life, heart-racing action. Depending on your point of view, this might just be one of most terrifying action films of 2015, or the most action-packed horror films. In either case, a thoroughly nerve-wracking and entertaining watch.
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