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No Exit

Movie Reviews

‘No Exit’ review: Gripping thriller

While it never reaches anywhere close to the source material’s greatness, ‘No Exit’ still makes for a fun and gripping thriller.

On Friday, Hulu released the film adaptation of No Exit, a film adaptation of Taylor’s Adam’s brilliant 2018 novel of the same name.

The story revolves around a young woman (Darby) who ends up getting stuck at a remote rest stop in the middle of a snow storm with four strangers. What begins as a major roadblock to visiting her dying mother becomes something much more deadly/harrowing when she sees that one of the people has a little girl bound and gagged inside their car.

Both the novel and the film have a number of huge twists, so this review won’t be able to go into much detail without spoiling things. That said, we’ll still dig into whether or not the film adaptation for one of my all time favorite novels is worth watching–both a fan of the book or someone who’d never even heard of it until now.

What Works

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

As great as No Exit‘s premise is, it can’t work without the characters. Luckily, this is one area where the film absolutely nailed it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the way they changed Darby’s backstory into her being a drug addict (more on that in a bit), but Hannah Rose Liu portrays the character brilliantly. Even when it involved the parts I didn’t like, Liu sold those additional aspects of Darby’s backstory to create a tragically flawed and believable hero.

Her brilliant performance is only rivaled by the film’s primary antagonist. Once again, I can’t really say who that is (to preserve the mystery), but the character is absolutely terrifying without ever devolving into a supervillain territory. In fact, the character’s humanity makes the fear they instill even worse after their sociopathic walls are tested as the night’s events escalate into chaos.

That being said, the entire cast is as good as any fan of the book could ask for. Each one plays a part that never allows you be comfortable or certain about who they are or what they’re capable of–even the good ones.

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

From a production standpoint, everything looks great. That might seem like odd praise for a story that takes place primarily is one bleak location, but the cinematography consistently works to enhance the claustrophobic fear marinating within its setting.

One of the few areas that improved upon the book was in the movie’s score by Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins. As much as I support movies directly to streaming formats (and argue against the snobbish criticisms they face), I’ve noticed that for whatever reason, the score quality for theatrical releases continues to be consistently better. In the case of No Exit, however, Beltrami and Hankins’ work was appropriately dramatic without ever imposing on or distracting from the drama unfolding in front of us.

It was also good enough that I’m adding the No Exit album to my soundtrack playlist on Spotify. Obviously my seal of approval as a middle school music teacher carries nowhere near the same weight or an Oscar or Grammy (or any number of infinitely more qualified opinions). But there are normally only one or two incidental music scores a year that effect me enough that I want them to be part of my background while I write.

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

Story-wise, No Exit starts out as what feels like a slow burn. By the time we reach the film’s halfway point, the narrative is a full blown fire.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially with how great the characters are. As the narrative hurtles toward its explosive climax, it’s impossible to keep your eyes off the screen. Despite being a phone addict who already had a very good idea of what was going to happen, I found myself device free excited/nervous all over again as Darby made her final stand.

What Didn’t Work

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

I understand the decision to make Darby a drug addict for the film adaptation of Taylor Adam’s novel. A movie isn’t going to have the space and internal dialogue to up her flawed character the way Adams did. It’s basically a much more efficient way to get us to roughly the same point when she arrives at the rest stop.

That said, it still didn’t sit right with me–especially when her addiction ends up playing a critical role is overcoming one of the story’s most harrowing scenes.

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

Another area where Darby’s character didn’t quite live up to my expectations was her bond with Jay, the young girl she’s attempting to rescue. Once again, much of this was due to the film not having the time or space to delve into that the way a book can. But there were also a few major cuts from the original narrative that probably could have helped.

Even more disappointing was how sparse Jay’s development is. Mila Harris does a superb job of portraying the distressed child’s terror, but the script ends up relegating her character to little more than a plot device.

The most disappointing cuts, however, came courtesy of the story’s main antagonist (who I once again will not name). That’s no fault of the actor/actress who portrayed them, by the way. They were even better than I could have hope for. But part of what made them such a terrifying villain in the novel was what we learned over the course of the evening. The No Exit film, on the other hand, doesn’t even scratch the surface, relying instead of a few bits of world building and relying on the phenomenal performance by the actor/actress portraying them.

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

While a movie obviously can’t delve into those sort of aspects in the same manner, No Exit‘s pacing shuttles the narrative along at breakneck speed. Much of this is due to the change in storytelling mediums, but some of it is due to cuts in the story, as well.

For context, I read the novel in a little over a day, both from not being able to put the book down and how each chapter rocketed you into the next one. I full expected a brisk story in the film adaptation and was still taken aback at how quickly it moved.

This could be due to my bias making me want to see one of my favorite books spend more time on the all the things I loved about it. But I also genuinely believe there was at least 15-20 more minutes of story that could have taken things to another level.

The Verdict

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine (who will never be mistaken for a genius) asked me what the point of books were when we have movies and television. After taking a moment to make sure I didn’t suffer an aneurism, I explained that written stories can delve into their characters’ inner workings and motivations better than even the best movies and TV shows can. It’s a big reason why Stephen Kings’s psychological dense tales often don’t translate well on screen.

And I say that as someone who loves movies and television.

In the case of No Exit, it might be completely unfair of me to expect a film adaptation to dig into the characters with the same brilliant and gripping insight as the book. I could make the argument that No Exit deserved to be a TV mini-series instead, but that’s not what we got…and what we got was still pretty damn good.

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

No Exit (20th Century Studios)

I decided to wait a day to write my review until I’d heard from some friends who watched No Exit without having ever read the book. I also might have fallen asleep on the couch after a super heavy meal, but that’s besides the point.

What I’ve heard thus far sounds very similar to the effusive praise I had after turning the last page of Taylor Adam’s novel. I’ve also found myself continually returning to the on screen characters and wanting to see them again–just like I continue to feel about the book I read four years ago.

I still maintain that the film adaptation moved too quickly through some of its most interesting aspects. I also feel that the admittedly great characters still got shortchanged in a lot of areas, especially Jay. That being said, my loft (and likely unreasonable) expectations don’t negate the film’s success as a fun and gripping thriller that I’ll likely watch again.

No matter what your opinion ends up being, however, I highly recommend reading the book, as well.

Read our interview with ‘No Exit’ author Taylor Adams here.

No Exit
‘No Exit’ review: Gripping thriller
'No Exit' review
While it never reaches anywhere close to the source material's greatness, 'No Exit' still makes for a fun and gripping thriller.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Whether you are a fan of the book or not, the characters are absolutely superb.
The production values are great, especially the films's score by Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins.
The film's build up and climax demand you stay glued to the screen--even if you read the story four years ago and know what's going to happen.
The change in mediums from book to film takes out a lot of the best parts, especially the primary antagonist's backstory.
Jay is reduced to little more than a plot device.
Despite being constructed as a brisk narrative, the story moves so fast that it feels like even 15 more minutes of exploration would have made a huge difference.

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