My heroes are Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I consider their creations of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes superheroes of the highest magnitude. I love that Rian Johnson honored their canon by giving us another prime example of the vintage murder mystery. I bleed the basic concept of a crime, a set of suspects, and a race to solve it.
Which is why I’m genuinely a fan of this year’s No Exit. This is a film that plays by the rules but brings a modern sensibility. It’s a tight little thriller with fantastic acting and direction. And because we’re in the streaming age this is probably the first time you’ve heard of it. It was released with only a tiny bit more fanfare in February than the usual streaming dump but it still slipped out. Time to fix it.
The movie centers around Darby (Havana Rose Liu), a recovering drug addict released from rehab to go see her mother who is in the hospital. Trapped in a snowstorm, she gets stranded at a visitor’s center with an older married couple (Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert), a weirdo (David Rysdahl), and a charming traveler (Danny Ramirez). While looking for a phone signal, she discovers a kidnapped girl (Mila Harris) in a van. Thus the stage is set for a plot that twists and twists as things prove far more complicated than they seem.
Like I said, this is a vintage example of the things I love. It’s a simple set up that mostly exists as a framework for the acting and directing. It’s based on a book by Taylor Adams–unread by me–but it’s virtually a stage play. It works so well as just a simple scenario. The stakes just keep increasing. The heroine has two ticking clocks: Saving the girl and getting to her mother. As things get worse on both fronts, it’s easy to care. Adding in nature as a threat–I love snowstorms for this– showcases the formula at its best.
I have to give a lot of credit to the cast. Liu is a real find. She’s good at playing someone trying to think through a nightmare. I also liked Rysdahl and Ramirez as the two very obvious suspects both for being the person you least and most suspect. But the real stars for me are character actor legends Dickey and Haysbert. Dickey is an actress you know but not by name , especially from her terrifying work in Winter’s Bone. She kills here. Haysbert is better known thanks to 24 and his ad work and if you have taste Far From Heaven and here he gets to deliver a very different turn.
If I’m this enthusiastic, why just a 3.5/5? Well for one thing the budget on this shows. Exteriors are far less than convincing, and I’d only really call the direction by Damien Power fine. It’s honestly not much more than tv level. Compared to Andrew Patterson’s wild work on The Vast of Night on an even smaller budget, it’s a bit meh. It’s also not more than a genre exercise. It’s got nothing more to say beyond playing with the tropes. This isn’t any more of a meal than comic book movie.
But this deserves better than being dumped on Hulu. It’s genuinely gripping and well-acted. It deserves to be found.