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Film Review: “No Exit” Begs for an Immediate Off-Ramp

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 25th, 2022

Film poster: “No Exit”

No Exit (Damien Power, 2022) ½ out of 4 stars.

Based on the eponymous 2017 thriller by Taylor Adams, the new film No Exit may have nothing to do with the great French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 existential drama, yet given that work’s thesis that “hell is other people,” perhaps they are one and the same. For watching this movie feels, indeed, like eternal damnation. A story that manages to trivialize every issue it encounters, No Exit will have you searching for an off-ramp as soon as it starts. My advice? Take a different route.

Starring Havana Rose Liu (Mayday) as Darby, a twentysomething addict in rehab, our tale begins with the by-now trite convention of a room full of recovery candidates, some willing and some cheeky. Darby clearly has a troubled past, as we learn that she needs to stay by court order, though we never discover what her previous transgressions (beyond drugs) may have been. We do know that she is estranged from family, as when a relative calls to tell her that mom is in the hospital with an aneurysm, sis then texts to say, “Stay away.”

Havana Rose Liu in NO EXIT © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

But does that stop Darby? No! Breaking into a counselor’s car (a car that has, of course, a drug stash in it), she decamps for Salt Lake City, a destination she hopes to make by morning, though it’s not quite clear where we are. Is it the Sierra Nevadas of California or Nevada? Either way, that’s a long haul. But narrative logic is less important here than the setup for a massive snowstorm (which actually just looks like some heavy flurries) that forces her off the road (courtesy of a would-be helpful cop) and into a not-yet-official rest stop. There, she meets others so grounded.

A moment of reflection, please: without knowing the source text, but more than aware of Sartre’s play, I kept on expecting this entire enterprise to be a larger metaphor about sin, redemption, or the lack thereof. Perhaps none of it would turn out to be real. Are we inside Darby’s head the whole time? Personally, I hate those kinds of stories, where all the plot points in which we invest turn out to be just a dream, or a hallucination, or a manifestation of schizophrenia. But I would take a metaphorical treatment of absolution any day over this. Still, even my worst fears about what was happening could not match the actuality of what transpires.

A still from NO EXIT. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Back to that rest stop and those people. It’s a small group: Dale Dickey (A Love Song), Dennis Haysbert (Secret Obsession), Danny Ramirez (Silo), and David Rysdahl (The Land of Owls). Something seems slightly off, reinforcing the promise (perhaps all in my own head) or surreal shenanigans. But then the sordid details of the crime Darby uncovers lead to bloodshed and more unpleasantness, none of which resonates (beyond the visceral reaction to violence), and we are but helpless to watch the mess unfold.

Music swells, bodies fall, and we are asked for our unearned emotional investment. No thank you. I’m heading that way. Over there. Far from here.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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