It’s gratifying to watch a movie when you’re witnessing a star in the making. This happens with Havana Rose Liu in No Exit, the latest 20th Century Studios/Hulu joint production. She is so good in the movie that we can very well give her the Academy Award for Best Actress right now. The film follows a relatively simple premise: a recovering addict named Darby (Liu) escapes her rehab facility to reach her mother in Salt Lake City, who is in the hospital due to a brain aneurysm. However, a blizzard occurs, and a police officer tells her that all roads are closed. Darby then agrees to stay the night at a visitors’ center and wait until the storm passes. There, she meets Ash (Danny Ramirez), Lars (David Rysdahl), Sandi (Dale Dickey), and Ed (Dennis Haysbert), who are also spending the night. Trying to find some bars on her phone outside, she hears a strange noise in the van of one of the guests and sees that a young girl has been kidnapped. Darby must find the suspect and free the girl before he (or she) finds out and kills everyone in the guest house.
And right from the get-go, No Exit reveals its principal antagonists. I won’t dare spoil the fun here, but it’s pretty apparent when Darby enters the guest house. There’s no ol’ switcheroo here; the antagonist is as clear-cut as possible. But it’s what happens after that reveal where the movie starts to get quite endearing and tons of fun to watch. Unfortunately, Disney has buried the film on their streaming services (Hulu in the United States and Disney+ internationally), with very little marketing to support it. Yet they have a pretty great film on their hands.
This feels like another case of The Empty Man, where Disney barely marketed the movie when it came out (the trailer was released a week before its theatrical release in relatively empty cinemas) as if they were dumping it in the hopes that no one would see it. But The Empty Man wasn’t a case of The Bye Bye Man and Slender Man; it was an insanely creative and pulse-pounding thriller with great performances to support its unreal atmosphere. It did lose itself during the final act, but the rest of the film was tight as hell.
The same thing happens here: the film had one trailer released twenty-five days before its release, promoting a sub-standard “cabin fever” thriller and nothing more. But it’s so much more than that. From its opening scene, No Exit wastes no time building its tense atmosphere through its pulsating score from Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins and its lush photography from Simon Raby. Both technical aspects elevate the movie from its potential run-of-the-mill status and pull us in as quickly as possible before the real twists and turns come in.
And by twists and turns, there are lots of them. If you thought the movie revealing who the kidnappers were during the first thirty minutes felt odd, don’t fret. There are plenty more twists that are way more surprising than the first one and far more effective. That’s mainly due to the incredible performances on display from everyone involved, most notably Havana Rose Liu, who gives the most memorable breakthrough role I’ve seen since Cynthia Erivo wowed me away in Bad Times at the El Royale in 2018. She owns the screen from beginning to end, in perfect control over her supporting counterparts, who are also excellent. It’s always a pleasure to see Dennis Haysbert in a movie again and brings a much-needed emotional balance with Liu and Dale Dickey, who also shares one terrific scene. Above all else, No Exit is an actors’ film, and without good performances, the story won’t follow.
Thankfully, that’s not the main problem of the film. It’s a shame that its multiple twists start to become a bit too over-the-top in the end and, ultimately, lose its connective tissue during the climax. There are lots of will they/won’t they moments to try and subvert the audience’s expectations, but many of them don’t work at all and are also terribly predictable. Although the movie succeeded in giving us surprising twists during the first two acts, it ultimately fails at giving us more twists to care about during the end, especially when we see them coming a mile away. But it doesn’t necessarily ruin the experience, particularly when strong performances are still carrying the film, and the cinematography becomes more sophisticated as the action intensifies.
No Exit isn’t a perfect thriller, by all means. But its effective and lean set-up, impeccable performances, cinematography, and score make it a terrific popcorn flick for audiences ready for a simple but worthwhile thriller that consistently pulls its punches, even if it has a hard time wrapping it up in the end. It’s a shame that Disney decided to put it on its streaming services, as it would’ve been a great movie to watch with a theater-ready crowd on opening night.
No Exit is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.