In the middle of an unforgiving snowstorm, a group of strangers find themselves stranded in a remote visitors’ centre, keeping warm until the weather allows them to leave. It could be the set-up for an off-Broadway play, a tight dialogue-heavy chamber piece, but in the far less lofty Disney thriller No Exit, it’s the jump-off for a schlocky sub-Agatha Christie whodunnit instead, one that lets us know who done it a little too fast.
Our unlikely detective is Darby (Havana Rose Liu), a young addict racing away from the rehab centre she just broke out of and toward the estranged mother whose brain aneurysm has sent her to the hospital. Inclement weather forces her off the road and into the aforementioned safe haven alongside four others (Dennis Haysbert, Dale Dickey, Danny Ramirez and David Rhysdahl), playing cards until the blizzard breaks. But Darby soon makes a horrifying discovery – a young girl kidnapped in the back of a van outside – and realises that one of her newfound friends is up to something sinister.
Wisely bypassing cinemas and landing straight-to-stream on Hulu (internationally, it will premiere on Disney’s Star platform), No Exit plays every bit like a Netflix-adjacent TV movie, one that seems ill-fitting of the grandiose 20th Century Studios logo that precedes it. Based on a 2017 book by Taylor Adams, it’s a thinly plotted potboiler that takes familiar elements and barely reheats them, the end result failing to insist itself as a worthy proposition amid such consistently intimidating competition.
There is some initial fun in watching Darby try to figure out who owns the van, a tense game of Bullshit peppered with inquisitive jabs, but it’s far too short-lived, an unease that isn’t stretched anywhere near far enough. Cards are shown too soon with a predictable reveal coming soon after, followed by a betrayal based on a dynamic far too under-developed to have any real impact and so a game of guessing evaporates into a repetitive one of survival. Performances are mostly unremarkable, with Dickey particularly underused, wasted in a role that mostly requires her to sit and look concerned.
What Australian director Damien Power struggles with, along with Ant-Man and the Wasp screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, is a confident mastering of tone, their film torn between two distinct target audiences. For the most part, No Exit plays like a sanitised YA thriller, softened for a PG-13 crowd, complete with a bumbling I-don’t-wanna-hurt-anyone henchman. But then when the frenzied third act comes crashing into view, suddenly so does some R-rated gore, a last ditch attempt to appeal to the horror crowd, most of whom would have lost interest a long time back. There’s a nifty reversal late in the day but it’s explained as an act of desperation rather than anything more nefarious and so a sharper bite is swapped out for something far more toothless, a development that’s indicative of the film at large. It’s an airport novel that’s now an airplane movie.