No Escape

No Escape Movie Review-A Slick Extreme Game Thriller

No Escape is extreme escape room comfort food. It’s a high octane thriller that goes by in a flash. With friends like this, you don’t need enemies.

Movies about the dangers of social media are a dime a dozen. Nerve and Tragedy Girls gave the concept urgency and satire respectfully. Escape rooms have also been a focus of horror movies lately. The inherent danger of putting yourself in someone else’s hands can be rewarding for adrenaline junkies and nerds alike. Last year’s Escape Room took the Rube Goldberg approach to horror with their gory puzzles. Writer/director Will Wernick’s No Escape takes a smidge from several different movies and spins a story that is both wildly entertaining and familiar.

Cole(Keegan Allen) has been documenting his life for the past ten years. Over that time, he has racked up subscribers and endorsements by the millions. He and his four friends are traveling to Russia to celebrate this milestone by participating in a one of a kind experience courtesy of rando-fan Alexie(Ronen Rubinstein, of 911 Lonestar). Supposedly the uber-rich Russian has designed something specifically for him. Strangers in a foreign land engaging in an intense experience with people they’ve never met. What could go wrong?

The film is perfectly paced and doesn’t include a moment of wasted time. It’s the kind of movie you expect to be satisfactory but instead find yourself enjoying the hell out of it. Due to cartoon Russian villains who bolshevik their way through every scene and palpable tension that turns into real fear, No Escape sucks you in and doesn’t let go. You will likely see the twist coming, but you won’t care. It’s the kind of story that you race to the end to find out of you were right rather than be irritated it was obvious.

No Escape
Courtesy of Vertical

Keegan Allen(Pretty Little Liar) is so ingratiatingly desperate for attention as reality star Cole; he has whored himself out to the highest internet bidder. Despite the clear Logan Paul homage, he isn’t an entirely unlikeable guy. Allen has a boyish charm that keeps Cole from becoming an irritating joke. His gang consists of basic clingers who leach off of Cole’s money, an X-Game athlete, a loving but frustrated girlfriend, and a childhood best friend. Each is unique and necessary to the film. No character is disposable, a rarity for films like this.

Holland Roden is a standout as Erin. Her work in Channel Zero Season 3 Butcher’s Block prepared her to sell the realism no matter how weird things get. Denzel Whitaker(Thomas) is smart and normal in a group that is predominantly media crazed. When they get in trouble, you care. Torture devices that are designed to frighten as much as harm apply pressure at just the right times.

One of the best components of Wernick’s movie is his use of sound. More importantly, the absence of sound. Key moments are defined by these silent beats that forecast exactly how far gone Cole is. Slick cinematography by Jason Goodell and a strong ensemble cast combine to make an entertaining if familiar film.

Think of No Escape as Hostel-lite. It has all the suggestions of torture without the grisly details. Eli Roth’s Hostel worked because the gore was so over the top. Eastern block shenanigans are a common American fear. Wernick employs a similar technique here. He understands the mechanics of an escape room and layers those complexities over a social media commentary that is surprisingly smart. The result is an effective horror movie with a shrewd bite. When the camera is rolling, Cole is all practiced soundbites, finger guns, exploding emojis, and superficial smiles. When it stops, his facade falls, and the cynicism of nearly a lifetime in the public eye comes through. Not much can shock him now, or so he thinks.

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Once the third act begins, the more horrific elements shine. The tension intensifies as the danger ratchets up. Visible blood begins to spill, and bald massive fetish-style goons stalk the halls of a warehouse. Each layer of the mystery reveals more suffering until stripped bare, Cole shows his true face to a hungry digitized world who laps up every sordid moment.

Some might say it’s sophomoric and derivative, but rather it is comfortable and fun. Despite the predictability, there are enough tricks to make this hybrid thriller a good time. The grasping bluntness of the story works with the coarseness of YouTube’s famous insta-celebrities. Unintentionally funny, the ending lands despite the telegraphed twist. No Escape is the kind of movie you can watch without paying close attention and enjoy without remembering too much. There could be worse ways to spend ninety minutes, like say, trying to escape from a Russian gulag.

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