Over the years, there has been a drought of perfectly cooked and chilling thrillers. Nowadays, you don’t get the complete package of an unpredictable story, smothering atmosphere, and interesting characters. Of course, there are a lot of great recent examples (Widows, You Were Never Really Here, and Burning, to name a few). Regardless, as time passes, the quality of the genre has somewhat diminished, and Hulu’s latest original picture, No Exit, is an example of such degradation. It is yet another run-of-the-mill thriller lacking gripping characters, a sensory atmosphere, and a surprising story.
Based on Tayler Adams’ 2017 novel of the same name, No Exit tells the story of Darby (Havana Rose Liu), who is struggling to stay sober. She quotes, “it’s either rehab or jail” in the first few minutes, so the audience already knows that her situation is tight. And it is going to get even more stressful for her when someone tells her that her mother got a brain aneurysm. Because of some past incidents, Darby’s family doesn’t want her to see her mother as she will “make things worse”. So, Darby decides to take matters into her own hands and escape to the Salt Lake City hospital. However, a severe snowstorm is ahead, forcing her to find shelter at a highway rest area. There, she stumbles across an abducted girl locked up in a van, which causes her to investigate who the kidnapper is amongst the group of strangers.
No Exit hasn’t even started to boil the stew of tension and apprehension, and you already know the outcome. Well… sort of. You know who the killers are and how the story will develop. But some sequences of unprecedented violence come out of the blue. It all begins with a The Hateful Eight-esque situation; strangers sitting across the room waiting for the snowstorm to calm down and go by their day afterward. Yet, it never does. The events will go from bad to worse in just a few hours. As the snowstorm worsens, the plot should thicken and create anxiety-driven pulsing set pieces that dwell deeper into the investigation. However, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari’s predictable screenplay spoils the investigation.
There is only one in-depth conversation sequence: a card game of “cheat”, which relies on poker faces and lies. And it is redundant that you already know who’s who and their fates from a scene that should increase suspicions. The rest of the scenes are either straightforward thriller sequences or cat-and-mouse scenarios. Director Damien Power goes into autopilot mode with his approach to this adaptation, making it feel like it was part of one of Hulu’s anthology series. While its narrative lacks originality and precision, it gains points for sound design and score, which do the heavy lifting in terms of suspense. The snaps of the wooden floors and doors, the crackle of the freezing glass, or the howling of the icy wind make the rest area feel like a character of its own (Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins’ score also helps a lot in this factor).
Yet, it loses that effect since it’s not that well shot. An example of this poor cinematography is a chase scene in the woods, where you cannot see a single soul. One of the best directed moments in the film (surprisingly so) is when Darby has been impaled with a nail gun in her lower arm, and she needs to escape in order to save the little girl. Although the remainder of the picture hasn’t built up to such scenes, it’s shocking because you feel the pain caused by that violent act, unlike the other ones where there is no sentiment or sensation of pain. You sit there watching in sheer anxiousness because it hurts, but once that nail comes out, there’s nothing left.
That scene is the only one that causes any engagement since the remains are a snooze fest. There is a good performance by Liu (who honestly deserves better) and a nice poster, but that’s about it. No Exit is a tale of two halves. One is more restrained, and the other is filled with utter violence; this division makes you question who was it meant for. It feels like each half is targeted for a different audience. I haven’t read the source material to know if it had any bite. Nevertheless, the film is toothless, feeble, and ineffective – the definition of a straight-to-streaming thriller. – Hector A. Gonzalez
No Exit is now streaming on Hulu.