NO ESCAPE (2020)

No Escape.jpg

Studio:      Vertical Entertainment
Director:    Will Wernick
Writer:      Will Wernick
Producer:  Sonia Lisette, Kelly Delson, Jeff Delson, Will Wernick
Stars:     Keegan Allen, Holland Roden, Denzel Whitaker, Ronan Rubinstein, Pasha Lychnikoff, George Janko, Siya

Review Score:

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Summary:

A social media celebrity and his friends question what is real when they travel to Moscow for a unique escape room experience.


Synopsis:     

Review:

If you¡¯re a noisy social media personality in Moscow for a one-of-a-kind escape room experience, and you don¡¯t anticipate losing your passport, running into Russian mobsters, and being trapped in Bolshevik prison torture devices, then you deserve to be dumbfounded when all of those things actually do happen. Likewise, if you go into a film with this premise, you pretty much know what¡¯s in store and shouldn¡¯t be disappointed when the package you ordered gets delivered to your door. ¡°No Escape¡± is precisely the twentysomething-targeted version of ¡°The Game¡± meets ¡°Hostel¡± it sounds like. Whether that¡¯s good or bad depends on acknowledging that notion before pressing Play.

Cole Turner occasionally comes close, yet mercifully isn¡¯t as obnoxious as the Paul Brothers he¡¯s meant to echo. His pal Dash on the other hand, could give them a better run for their money in the annoying motormouth department. At least this duo has the pleasanter natures of Cole¡¯s best buddy Thomas, saccharin sweetheart Erin, and fully forgettable friend Sam to soothe some of that ¡®privileged kids playing pranks¡¯ sting.

Tables are getting turned to celebrate 10 years of attracting countless followers through airhead entertainment. Dash promises that rich playboy Alexei, with whom Dash has supposedly partied before, arranged a personally tailored escape experience guaranteed to make Cole practically pee his pants. Cole of course can¡¯t wait to broadcast the scary shebang to his fans.

However, they don¡¯t even arrive at the escape room until half an hour into the film. In the meantime, we¡¯re treated to the typical trappings of pretty people doing pretty people things. At a trendy nightclub, Cole and company make out with models, boisterously gulp Vodka shots, and dance to electronic music during a slow-motion montage washed in giallo colors. Again, should the inclusion of such standard sequences shock you, I don¡¯t know what movie you thought you were watching.

As shenanigans continue, everyone demonstrates what little regard they have for their own safety and surroundings. Not only do they mix it up with menacing thugs at a bar, they run up big bills without having the country¡¯s cash on hand and also insult locals for a laugh. Basically, Cole¡¯s friends behave as boorishly as their stereotyping suggests. I¡¯ll say this for ¡°No Escape¡± though. B-roll offers an eye-catching virtual tour of Moscow while this goes on. Even if we don¡¯t find the characters endearing, we do become a bit enamored with their environment.

It wouldn¡¯t be worth getting attached to anyone anyway. ¡°No Escape¡± begins building background in the form of Cole and Erin¡¯s romance, Alexei¡¯s potentially shady criminal ties, and more than a few men shooting shifty glances here and there. Then the movie chucks every sub-thread in the trash, opting for a ¡°let¡¯s just get on with it¡± horror show instead.

As for said horror show, it too delivers according to its advertisement. Upon entering the escape room, Cole¡¯s friends end up trapped in an iron maiden, electric chair, and water tank. Genuine suspense seeps into these scenes because we still don¡¯t know for certain what¡¯s happening. It looks like Cole¡¯s pals could be facing real danger, and director Will Wernick maintains a pulse-pounding pace that pulls the tension of their torture as tight as possible. Wernick¡¯s knack for crafting anxiety out of shot sequencing should put him on a shortlist for helming the next ¡°Final Destination¡± movie.

SPOILERS

At the end of the day though, there are still only two possible outcomes to the story. Either Cole¡¯s group has inadvertently stumbled into a sadistic human trafficking operation determined to murder them mercilessly, or Cole has been Finchered by friends acting with Academy Award-worthy convincingness and an impossibly elaborate plan. Both scenarios are of equal implausibility. But ¡°No Escape¡± leaves entire loaves of bread, not crumbs, on a trail that tells you its direction from the first step.

When bodies start dropping, a conspicuous lack of close-ups confirms what 99% of mildly attentive viewers already suspect regarding the truth. ¡°No Escape¡± therefore doesn¡¯t work as a mind-racing mystery. Not even close. But it fondly reminds me of ¡°Three¡¯s a Crowd,¡± which is possibly my favorite episode of ¡°Tales from the Crypt¡± because of its all-time banger of an ending. ¡°No Escape¡± mimics that episode¡¯s wicked revelation almost exactly and I can¡¯t help but be amused by the post-credits implications. Blind eyes can see the moment coming from an hour away, yet there¡¯s something satisfyingly savage about the downer conclusion that can bring a quick snicker to your lips.

END SPOILERS

It¡¯s easy to hate on ¡°No Escape.¡± Borderline insufferable personalities dot the roster. The film also kills two ¡°not another one of these¡± birds with one stone by being both a ¡°Saw¡± clone and themed around social media celebrity. Anyone prone to complaining about horror movies that ¡°bring nothing new¡± shouldn¡¯t even be here.

For these same reasons, ¡°No Escape¡± fits the definition of a competent three-star thriller. Sharp cinematography is slickly shot and crisply edited. Actors are attractive. The movie essentially looks like a basic Blumhouse production, which I mean as a compliment, and I could picture it coming from that company if Blumhouse didn¡¯t already have several similar plates on its platter.

What I¡¯m saying is it might be indistinguishable from the rest of the litter, but ¡°No Escape¡± is more watchable than most indie horror films about escape rooms gone wrong. Maybe that doesn¡¯t ring a loud bell of endorsement, but what more would any reasonable person expect from a mid-road movie like this?

NOTE: ¡°No Escape¡± was previously titled ¡°Follow Me.¡±

Review Score: 60