Written by: Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari
Starring: Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl, Dale Dickey, Mila Harris
Being around strangers in any setting can be a cause for distress for some as a level of familiarity, however small, can cause a sense of ease. This, in particular, becomes incredibly important when it comes to already stressful situations. The sneaky and incredibly enjoyable No Exit, adds the adage to not trust strangers to the extreme as a young woman finds herself in a horrifying situation.
On her way to visit her mother, who is suffering from a brain aneurysm, Darby (Havana Rose) gets instructed by the police to seek shelter at a local community center because of a dangerous blizzard. When she arrives, she sees four other strangers there, which seems somewhat pleasant at first, until she finds something disturbing going on.
The premise of this feature sets up endless opportunities and a wonderfully isolated setting for it all to take place. A community center where individuals meet others on a regular basis but on this occasion, these individuals find themselves there out of primal necessity and we have no idea where they are coming from or who they are. Add on the lack of cellular reception and a blizzard that makes it nearly impossible to escape until there’s a break in the storm, and this feature sets itself a great foundation to work in a horrifying tale. No Exit definitely delivers with its story as it provides a horrific situation and it becomes impossible to know who can be trusted when the inciting incident takes place.
Horror films like this one always intrigue me because they start with characters who have no intentions to try and be heroic. Darby, in particular, has been referenced as someone incredibly selfish in the past according to text messages between her and her sister. The reason she’s even on the road comes from breaking out of a rehabilitation center where she shows no signs of improvement from her addiction. She’s not even welcomed by her family to be there when her mother will inevitably passes away, which really says something about her past actions. However, all that matters at this moment is how she acts when the chips are down, and what she manages to accomplish in this feature is quite the feat. It makes her strength and growth all the more satisfying, especially when she could mind her business and leave things alone. She steps up in a great way and it magnifies the impact by the end of the feature.
Much of the success of this feature is the way it manages to deceive you as an audience member of who you should be afraid of as the film progresses. Staying at the community center with Darby is a married couple on their way to Reno, a guy sleeping in the corner, and a jittery and nervous fellow sitting at a table. Entering this situation with Darby, you enter with your own preconceived notions as to who will be doing something nefarious seeing as this is a horror film, after all. The biggest trick of this story comes from how you can never fully guess precisely where it’s going and the many twists that occur add to the exhilarating experience this film provides.
The joy of these twists comes down to the very clever writing of this film by co-screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari where there are subtle moments of dialogue that seem unimportant at the start but come back later. Not only in what is said but what is conveniently not mentioned initially but gets references later on. It rewards attention to detail as to who these people are and what motivations they have for being on the road that day and getting stuck at the same community center as Darby.
Having to carry all of the emotional moments this film has to offer, this is quite the performance given by Havana Rose Liu. For someone so early in her career, she manages all of the difficult moments this screenplay has to offer and demonstrates the growth this character needs to have in order to survive the situation. However, she also gets complemented by some wonderful supporting actors with quite a range of experience to fill out the rest of the cast of this mysterious and thrilling film. Particularly Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert, who each enter this film with their own reputations of characters they have portrayed in the past, which informs or can deceive how you perceive them throughout this feature. The casting is quite brilliant because of this very fact.
A surprising and thrilling golden nugget, No Exit gives you everything you would want from a horror film centered around a bunch of strangers stranded in a snowstorm. It’s incredibly tense in moments and when the inciting incident occurs, it ratchets up the intensity to a terrifying degree because of what is at stake and the circumstances surrounding it all.