It’s hard to pull off films like No Exit. Simple premises that set up narratives in one intimate location with a small cast leave little to hide behind. In No Exit, Havana Rose Liu makes her feature film leading role debut as Darby, a young woman trying to meet her family in the midst of an emergency. With a dark past and mental health issues, this trek through the elements serves as a moment to seek forgiveness and right her wrongs. But when she is stranded by a blizzard and forced to find shelter at a highway rest area with a group of strangers, she winds up in a situation that tests her resolve and will to survive.
Directed by Damien Power from a screenplay by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari and based on Taylor Adams’ 2017 novel, the film’s dark turn happens when Darby stumbles across an abducted girl in a van in the parking lot. Returning to the rest area and the strangers sitting in it, the film takes on a whodunnit quality before devolving in an outright fight to stay alive. No Exit stars Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl, Dennis Haysbert, Dale Dickey, and Mila Harris.
The film’s location doesn’t so much as become its own character as it creates an intimate foundation for the story to be told. Five people stranded together in a blizzard with nothing but card games and bad jokes is already tense enough. Then you throw in a volatile stranger without a sense of humor, and the conversations quickly become a powder keg that Darby has to maneuver. Her knowledge of the kidnapped girl makes every interaction with the people at the rest stop a careful one. This is an excellent choice to build tension in the story through mistrust and build fear in the audience since we only find out the story as Darby reveals it.
Additionally, each character brings in drastically different personalities that make every interaction an interesting one. That said, the best parts of the film come from direct confrontations between characters. From the action-heavy final act and the verbal manipulation along the way, every conflict carries a weight that grows as more is revealed. But for all of its successes, there are clear moments of dissonance where the actors don’t seem to be on the same page of intensity.
Thankfully, these are few and far between, and the change of pace in the last act combined with Rose Liu and Ramirez’s volatile chemistry more than compensates for the minor stumbles. While some will call the predictability of the twists a fault, No Exit’s execution of them allows it to work well despite an almost paint-by-numbers plot. That said, there are a surprise or two that come out of left field to keep you invested.
No Exit is ultimately a stunning first outing in a lead role for Rose Liu. She’s commanding, vulnerable, and her transition from questioning if she wants to live to finding the determination to fight to survive is near-perfect. Rose Liu’s ability to create an emotional tether between the audience and Darby with her facial expression and body language is something special to see. No Exit doesn’t overstay its welcome and manages to keep a pace that effectively builds a chill and tension to hit fans of mystery thrillers.
No Exit is streaming now exclusively on Hulu.
- Rating - 8/108/10
No Exit is ultimately a strong first outing in a lead role for Rose Liu. She’s commanding, vulnerable, and her transition from questioning if she wants to live to finding the determination to fight to survive is near-perfect. Rose Liu’s ability to create an emotional tether between the audience and Darby with her facial expression and body language is something special to see. No Exit doesn’t overstay its welcome and manages to keep a pace that effectively builds a chill and tension to hit fans of mystery thrillers.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.