Agatha Christie meets The Hateful Eight in Damien Power’s thriller about five people trapped in a snowbound shelter, with one or more of them being guilty of kidnapping a little girl. Adapted from Taylor Adams’ 2017 novel, No Exit was originally scheduled for theatrical release but is now making its domestic premiere on Hulu. There, the film’s absurd plot machinations and lack of star power should be less of a turn-off to streaming viewers endlessly hungry for new content.
Relative newcomer Havana Rose Liu (Mayday) plays the central role of Darby, a twentysomething recovering addict who discovers during a stint in rehab that her mother has suffered a brain aneurysm and is in the hospital. Making a break from the facility, she attempts to drive to Salt Lake City to see her mother before it’s too late, only to be forced to take shelter in a visitors center during a raging blizzard.
You’ll feel trapped watching this claustrophobic thriller.
The other snowbound inhabitants are former Marine Ed (Dennis Haysbert) and his wife Sandi (Dale Dickey), who got trapped en route to a weekend getaway in Reno, and two young men: the friendly, attractive Ash (Danny Ramirez, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) and the headphone-wearing Lars (David Rysdahl), who’s seemingly lost in his own world.
Lacking cell phone service, there’s not much for the quintet to do other than make small talk and play the card game Bullshit. That is, until Darby, taking a break outside, spots a small girl (Mila Harris) bound and gagged in the back of a van in the parking lot. A series of plot twists ensue as Darby attempts to figure out which of the people inside is the kidnapper and how to free the child.
It’s a reasonable premise for a claustrophobic thriller but it doesn’t play out very well, due to the labored plot mechanics, lame dialogue and over-the-top characterizations. Lars, for instance, practically screams “psycho” with his sullen, withdrawn demeanor, or as Ed describes his type, “weird little white boys with a chip on their shoulder.” (Rysdahl seems to be auditioning for the role of Igor in a stage production of Young Frankenstein.)
It would be too much of a spoiler to reveal how the plot unfurls, except to say that the little girl eventually winds up in the shelter and that an elaborate stand-off ensues, with one of the characters actually uttering the hoary line, “Give us the girl and no one gets hurt.” As is apparently the case with all kidnapped children, at least in bad movies, the victim also turns out to have a life-threatening illness and is in desperate need of her medication.
Perhaps the film’s most original element turns out to be that Darby uses her experience as a recovering addict to fight back, at one point snorting cocaine to give herself the superhuman energy to escape from a particularly precarious situation. Original, yes, but not exactly a compelling argument for sobriety.
Eventually, the film devolves from a cerebral whodunnit to an all-out violence-filled gore fest, with a high body count (at least in terms of percentage) and especially nasty use made of a nail gun.
Director Power orchestrates the thriller plot mechanics with reasonable skill, and the film’s concise 90-minute running time ensures that the pace never bogs down. Haysbert makes good use of the natural gravitas and quiet authority that has made him such an effective insurance pitchman. Dickey, however, seems criminally wasted, especially coming after her sublime performance in the recent Sundance premiere A Love Song. Ramirez delivers a charismatic turn as Darby’s ostensible ally, and Liu proves herself more than capable of her lead role as the tough-as-nails but flawed heroine.