Review: NO ESCAPE Shows Us The Asia That Americans Should Be Afraid Of
Asia is terrifying. With its obscure languages, stifling humidity, tropical foliage, peculiar deities, dubious military regimes, weird food and proximity to historically hazardous war zones, American citizens would be insane to go near any part of it. The only Westerners capable of successfully navigating Asia's myriad unpredictable hazards seem to be washed-up ageing military types with a penchant for hookers and karaoke. Toss a white bread Southern family, freshly reassigned by their shady industrial employers, into even the most innocuous Asian city, and a full-blown coup d'etat is almost guaranteed to erupt the moment they step off the plane. The streets will be awash with blood by morning, as white-faced bystanders are gunned down with indiscriminate ferocity and abandon.
Or that's how the Dowdle brothers envision things, at any rate, in their panic-stricken tourist thriller No Escape. Writer-director siblings John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle cut their teeth on low budget horror fare such as Quarantine, the English language remake of Spanish shocker [REC], and Devil, produced by M. Night Shyamalan. Those skills are evident throughout No Escape, which frequently resembles a zombie apocalypse movie more closely than the political thrillers of yesteryear like The Year of Living Dangerously or The Killing Fields that its subject matter might evoke. During its numerous scenes of high tension, particularly an extended sequence staged on the roof of our heroes' hotel, No Escape successfully grips its audience and convinces us that Owen Wilson and his family are in genuine peril. In the calm moments between these storms, however, the ludicrous nature of the film's xenophobic, ill-informed premise becomes all too visible.
Relocated to an unnamed Southeast Asian country (which looks and sounds just like Thailand) by his employers to oversee the construction of a new water pipeline, Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters, arrive late at night just as the country's prime minister is murdered and the country thrown into turmoil. By morning, heavily-armed mobs are rampaging through the streets and soon zero in on the Dwyers' dilapidated, technologically hobbled hotel. And as events unfold, it becomes evident that the Dwyers are more complicit in this upheaval than they at first imagined.
Wilson is well within his comfort zone portraying panicked, disorientated and desperate, and it is a welcome return to the style of his early roles in films like Behind Enemy Lines after far too many years stuck in sub-par comedies. Lake Bell fleshes out her part (originally intended for Michelle Monaghan) to be significantly more rewarding than merely a screaming, accusatory spouse who'd rather have stayed in Texas. Both characters are pushed way beyond their limits and forced to commit horrific atrocities of their own to survive - but it's Asia, man, and what happens in Asia stays here, coz folks back home just wouldn't understand.
Sterling Jerins (The Conjuring, World War Z) and Claire Geere as the young daughters are also convincing, but it is Pierce Brosnan who steals the show here as the scotch-soaked expat Hammond. Introduced as a lecherous, drunken relic of a bygone colonial era, he reveals himself to be more than capable and disposing of inhospitable guerrillas and staying out of harm's way when the time comes. He's James Bond, a decade after a dishonourable discharge.
Originally titled The Coup, presumably until a focus group revealed that most flyover state residents struggled to pronounce it, No Escape is an efficiently executed by-the-numbers family-in-peril thriller that should do for uprisings what J.A. Bayona's The Impossible did for tsunamis - paint them as picturesque, terrifying, yet mostly survivable if you're an entitled Westerner. Yes, at one point Wilson can be heard banging on a door, demanding to be let in, because "We're Americans!"
As an accurate portrayal of contemporary South East Asia, it should come as little surprise to find No Escape is frustratingly ill-researched and misleading. Local inhabitants are either gun-toting sadists, pop culture-loving collaborators or elderly peaceful victims. The bustling city centre contains no evidence of 21st Century globalisation - no neon ATM signs, no internet cafes, 24-hour crazy dance party nightclubs, not even a Coca Cola logo. Wherever this bastion of cultural isolationism is, and it's certainly not Laos or Cambodia or China - the countries from which you actually can reach Vietnam by river - it seems to matter to the Dowdles very little. This is Asia, and if you listen to the rantings of Presidential wannabes like Donald Trump or Jeb Bush, that should be reason enough to send you screaming in terror to the nearest embassy.