“There is no good or bad here, just alive…or dead,” says Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), or some bullshit like that, just after going on a deeply asinine rant about the global political economy to apparent terminal naif Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson). Dwyer, despite being some sort of inventor (“a valve,” a Chekhov’s gun never fired, a metaphor never closed) apparently didn’t go to college, because he seems blown away by Shit Sophomores Say After Reading Chomsky. But the rant is deeply insulting on another, more relevant level – it is the only moment where No Escape, a despicable, vile, wretched slice of dumpster fire pie, even makes the pretense of having a politics at all, despite its idiot non-plot being superficially motivated by what are purported to be fundamentally political events. It’s one of the few moments where No Escape even bothers to half-assedly drape a facade around what is usually a naked, greedy, hollow-eyed desire to pump its audience’s heart with the sole purpose of sucking its blood.
If it’s not obvious by now that I hated No Escape, then you can’t read, and therefore are the only conceivable target audience for No Escape. You may be forgiven, however, for thinking that I think No Escape is bad. I do, indeed, think lots of movies are bad. But that would be wrong; bad movies are a dime a dozen, and mostly dismissable, if not exactly forgettable. But No Escape, from horror-movie making brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle, wasn’t bad. No Escape is like cigarettes – extremely good at effectively and efficiently achieving a desired physiological response with amoral disregard for human consequences. No Escape is unlike almost any movie I’ve ever seen at wringing as much adrenaline-per-minute as it does out of the endocrine system, because it is unlike almost any movie I’ve ever seen at casting aside humanity, morality, and any sense of decency in its quest. Children are endangered, hundreds of innocent people of all races and creeds are butchered like animals, the threat of rape dangled, all in a quest to ensure that a white family with no particular distinction or reason for being our protagonists are merely deeply and irrevocably traumatized when they could’ve been killed. Whew!
Jack Dwyer, failure, is bringing his wife (Lake Bell) and daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) to some country that borders Vietnam – which is never named, but the film was shot in Thailand – to try to defail himself, and they’re all very sad, and then there’s a deeply improbable coup/revolution which resembles no actual coup/revolution that ever actually happened because look, what the hell is even a coup/revolution? They are then chased across the city – also never named – because actually “Asian” people are American-hating zombies. What ensues is not a “thriller,” as the ad copy lies, but a horror movie, in which Thai people are substituted for zombies in some of the grossest, ugliest racism of this sort I’ve seen in a movie since Birth of a Nation. The Dwyers are subjected to an escalating series of ever more disgusting and manipulative horrors, as are the people who watch this movie, except the Dwyers are fake and the filmgoers are real.
Brosnan, always good even here, is a cynical-yet-ultimately-heroic British secret agent who sacrifices himself for the Dwyers, which would be a spoiler except it’s incredibly obvious and putting a spoiler alert anywhere in this review would be insulting as hell. If you think there’s something almost intelligently subservisive about casting a former Bond in this particular role, you’d almost be right, except there’s nothing intelligent about No Escape save the kind of lizard-like capacity to seek the next fix. The kicker to how much stupid No Escape emits in its pursuit of malice is a toss-up between the fact that Vietnam is the safe space Macguffin the Dwyers are running, without any awareness how bizarre that is. Also, there’s an entire opium den filled with hookers with hearts of gold, or at least drug-addled immunity from the coup-virus infecting all the other Others.
My wife left No Escape before the halfway point, and my biggest regret is failing to follow her out of a misplaced sense of obligation to see this misanthropic and ultimately masochistic shitshow through to its moronic, pandering, and bizarre denouement. Scratch that – my biggest regret is that we didn’t leave way sooner. Scratch that – my biggest regret is ever stepping foot into the theater in the first place. Scratch that – my biggest regret is my inability to meaningfully impact a media-industrial complex that lacks the antibodies against a tumor as hateful and ugly as No Escape. You might be forgiven for thinking that No Escape embraces some sort of nihilism, and that maybe it’s title is a misguided reference to Sartre’s No Exit, and its infamous maxim. But No Escape is nowhere near self-aware enough to even be nihilistic, or embrace any ideology other than mindless, heartless, soulless greed. Hell isn’t other people. Hell is this movie.