No Escape  (2015)

I had very low expectations for this movie when the trailer first came out. It seemed like an attempt to make a zombie movie without zombies, one family trying to escape an unstoppable horde. The fact that the heroes were American and the 'zombies' were Asian felt a bit racist, and I had no real intention to watch this. For whatever reason, my mind changed; even though I was mostly right, I still ended up somewhat pleasantly surprised.

Jack (Owen Wilson), his wife Anna (Lake Bell) and their two daughters are moving from Austin, Texas to southeast Asia. Jack works for a corporation that is setting up a new water system. Upon arrival at the hotel, the family discovers some electricity isn't working, the television is out, the phone line is dead, and cellular service is down. When the hotel clerk tells Jack this is happening all over the city, Jack heads out to find a newspaper.

The newspaper bodega happens to be on the exact wrong street, and Jack is caught the cross-fire between the city's police force and a massive gang of rebels. The fighting is vicious, Jack manages to wind his way through the back alleys and get back to the hotel, only to realize it is under siege as well. This begins the chase that lasts the rest of the movie, as the rebels are hell-bent on killing anyone in their path. There is a political subplot added in to try to humanize the rebels, and to elicit sympathy, but it feels tacked on.

I can understand why some groups from southeast Asia complained about this movie, criticizing the portrayal of their people as bloodthirsty murderers. It is a pretty bleak portrayal, with the good guys all white (with maybe a handful of exceptions) and all the bad guys non-white. Still, I admit I found myself being sucked in a few times, just feeling the extra terror of being in a country that I'm not familiar with, where no one speaks English, no idea where to run or who to turn to or what the hell to do at all. While it hit all the typical horror-movie beats (powerful enemy, daring escape, deus ex machina, etc), the real tension came from the fish-out-of-water element. I wasn't "scared" of the mob, instead I was "scared" of being a stranger in a strange land.

The action scenes were solid, but things fell apart for me when it came to Owen Wilson. I give him credit for going for a more action/horror/serious role, but seeing his face and hearing his voice, I just kept seeing Hansel (so hot right now) and I couldn't buy him as anything else.

Quentin Tarantino once described horror movies versus terror movies as this: horror movies are about ghosts or demons or monsters, things that can't happen in real life. Terror movies, however, are about things that - even if implausible - are totally possible. Is it likely that I would be in a country where a revolution was bubbling under, where they were resentful of American interference? Not likely. Is it possible? Sure. That's what sunk in for me, and made the movie worth just a bit.



On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "No Escape" gets a 5 out of 10.




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