No Escape is a really unusual film that will be hard to swallow for a lot of people, even if they find its other aspects appealing.
The plot is simple: Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play an American couple with two young girls who relocate to Southeast Asia to work for an American engineering company. Shortly after they arrive — and get acquainted with a British dude played by Pierce Brosnan — there is a massive riot that has suddenly turned all locals against foreigners. And we’re not talking about peaceful demonstrations here — these Asians are equipped with machetes and machine guns and they’re out for blood.
From one perspective No Escape just a moronic, xenophobic and exploitative film about an American family on the run from a bloodthirsty mob in an unnamed Southeast Asian country that looks and sounds a lot like Thailand (which happens to be where it was shot). The film doesn’t really give a shit why this is happening; it just needed a lot of crazy people who want to kill white people, and I suppose SE Asians were the cheapest to hire.
There’s a feeble attempt to rationalize it all towards the end of the movie, but by then nothing really makes sense. It’s hard to imagine people moving to another country having zero idea that it’s not the most stable place in the world. And if it was semi-stable before the rioting then it’s hard to envisage everything turning to absolute shit at the drop of a hat with no warning whatsoever.
Given the film’s senseless brutality, lack of explanation, and its painting of a group of people with the same brush, it is no wonder that No Escape has been hilariously described as “World War Z with Asians.”
However, from a different perspective — if you can leave all the political incorrectness aside — No Escape is an effectively violent and tense action-thriller that offers a breath of fresh air from all the other Taken wannabe films in recent years (incidentally, Owen Wilson reportedly said in an interview that the tone of No Escape was akin to Taken — personally, I think he might have been shooting a little high there with that comparison).
I have to admit though that the film does have its entertaining moments. That sense of primal fear and panic from the relentless rampaging Asians comes across as genuine, and it’s not hard to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonists and imagine how terrifying it would be. Much of that is thanks to the solid performances from Wilson and Bell, though Brosnan’s character is a little overdone and, along with some ill-timed slow-motion shots, makes the film campier than it ought to have been. One thing I will say, and I’m not sure if I should be saying it, is that I was really hoping for their two spoiled little shits to get killed because they kept stuffing things up by being completely uncooperative. They’re not too young to understand that people will no doubt brutalise and kill them if they don’t do exactly as their parents tell them.
In all, No Escape is terribly inconsiderate, but I wouldn’t say it’s terrible. The film will inevitably have its haters, and let’s face it, most of it is probably deserved. Despite the attempts of the filmmakers (namely director John Erick Dowdle, who last gave us the horror flick As Above, So Below) to appear less like dickheads by making the country unnamed and to mess up the language, etc to not target any specific group of people, there’s no denying that they have essentially portrayed all SE Asians as rabid zombified brutes or meaningless collateral damage. That said, if you can see past all that and accept the film for what it is, then it’s really not a bad action thriller. Having seen my fair share of unflattering, stereotypical portrayals of white people in Asian cinema, I’ve developed quite an impressive insensitivity to insensitivity, and as such I tend to focus more on the film’s positives than its negatives.
3 stars out of 5