Darby isn’t big on thinking things through. Rash decisions, lashing out, acting on impulse, that’s how you end up in your seventh stint of rehab, too jaded to mask your cynicism about the process.
A phone call telling her that Mom’s in the hospital with an aneurysm and that she “may not make it” prompts another impulse. Steal a couple of tools that’ll help you steal a car, and take off for Salt Lake.
But the weather’s closing the highways. And holing up in an Interstate rest area during a blizzard, she hears the cries from a van in the parking lot. A kid’s been kidnapped. Somebody among the four folks waiting out the weather inside is a child trafficker.
With no cell service and little history of rational decisions under pressure, what will Darby do?
“No Exit” is a claustrophobic, minimalistic and sometimes paranoid thriller, just five people trapped together, with at least two of them knowing a secret and one trying to figure out a way to save a little girl.
It’s probably not paranoid enough. But as the story gives away this or that secret too early, it compensates with new wrinkles, feeds the viewer, the heroine and the kidnapper clues about what’s to come and what will be used to make that happen.
Havana Rose Liu, just seen in “The Sky is Everywhere” and Netflix’s “The Chair,” impresses as our lead, a young woman who gave up and keeps giving up, until that phone call gives her purpose, and that child in the van delivers moral clarity. Darby’s problem solving might seem a stretch, but Liu makes her wariness and ability to lie/improvise on the fly feel lived in.
Dale Dickey, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl and Dennis Haysbert are her fellow shut-ins, and suspects. The script and the casting throws doubt into the mix and encourages us to overthink things. Wait, did they cast him/her to throw us off the scent?
The dark and snowy outdoors are more convincingly snowy than frigid, and a rest area undergoing renovations gives the tale for too many options for mischief, plotting off to one side, and weapons.
Director Damien Power (“Killing Ground”) and the screenwriters, working from a Taylor Adams novel, trip us up just enough to keep this interesting and serve up plenty of violence — some of it torturous — to show us the high stakes.
Dickey and Haysbert are the stand-outs in the cast, playing a married couple with their own way of bickering.
“I don’t LIKE that guy.” “You don’t KNOW that guy.” “I’ve known PLENTY of ‘THAT guy.'”
As child kidnapping/trafficking thrillers go — and yes, there have been scores of these — “No Exit” barely stands out from the pack and overreaches at times. But it puts us in somebody’s snow-caked shoes and dares us to reason or fight our way out of this with her, which is all you can ask.
Rating: R for strong violence, language and some drug content
Cast: Havana Rose Liu, Dale Dickey, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl and Dennis Haysbert
Credits: Directed by Damien Power, scripted by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, based on the Taylor Adams novel. A 20th Century release on Hulu.
Running time: 1:35