Will Wernick wrote and directed No Escape. And it’s is an entertaining but predictable puzzle-box that has something to say yet somehow manages to disappoint. Surprisingly, Wernick’s script is fun, tightly written and offers effective social commentary for the YouTube generation. However, a disinterested cast and seemingly low-stakes riddles prevent the film from ever achieving the intensity of other entries into the genre. (At one point, a character even notes that their challenge is ‘just like in Die Hard’ and solves the equation with ease. It feels less like an ‘homage’ and more like lazy writing.)
No Escape follows Cole (Keegan Allen), a popular social media influencer who releases daily updates of his adventures to his millions of followers. His fans decide that he should take a mysterious trip to Moscow to celebrate his 10th anniversary online. And he entrusts his friends to find something truly unique to share with his followers. In response to the challenge, his friend Dash (real-life YouTuber George Janko) signs Cole and his team up for a mysterious underground escape room. Each room is uniquely tailored to each player. However, as the lines between reality and social media are blurred, they will have to fight to escape and survive.
If the plot sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Wernick is also the writer/director of the 2017 film Escape Room. He certainly has experience in the world of puzzle-box horror and No Escape feels like an indirect sequel to his earlier film. The stories are unrelated to one another. But both feature a team of friends who are simply looking for a night of fun that find more than they bargained. Both groups unlock brainteasers in order to survive. However, what sets No Escape apart from its predecessor is the effective social commentary. It offers a message regarding the dangers of Instagram culture.
Living his daily life for the sake of his fans, Cole is always looking for the next rush to keep them engaged. Onscreen, he’s an energetic influencer who’s up for anything. However, in his real life, his demeanor is much more sedate as he enjoys quiet dinners with his girlfriend and relaxing with his friends. (“I’m only like that when the cameras are on,” he explains.) The problem is that, as his popularity grows, Cole finds it increasingly difficult to disengage from his online life. For him, intimate moments with his girlfriend have become opportunities to satisfy his legions of fans. He prefers to connect with his fans instead of connecting with the love of his life.
Here, Wernick does a good job of telling his story through two different lenses. Rather than opt to solely take a ‘found-footage’ approach to the film, Wernick moves between styles. And, in doing so, he manages to emphasize the drastic differences between life on and offline. When those worlds begin to collide, Wernick continues to remind you that ‘someone is always watching’. He highlights the fact that living an Insta-life can have consequences when taken too far.
As the stakes continue to rise, No Escape serves as a reminder. While crazy stunts and wild antics may look good on camera, they also can create chaos in the ‘real world’. (An example of this as Cole jokes that ‘Russia is great except for all the mobsters’ to his fans on his VLOG. He then realizes that an entire restaurant of locals have heard him and are offended). Cole perpetually embarks on a never-ending quest for followers. And he seems unaware that his decisions have not only cost him in his daily relationships but also a piece of his soul.
Though far from perfect, No Escape’s cultural insight and fun script make the film a relatively enjoyable ride. Though one wishes that this would have the gripping intensity of other films of this nature (ie. Saw), there’s enough here to keep you interested as you watch, even if it feels like escapist fluff in the end.
Of course, that’s not unlike watching YouTube anyways.
No Escape is available on VOD.
- Rated: R
- Genre: Adventure, Horror, Thriller
- Release Date: 9/19/2020
- Directed by: Will Wernick
- Starring: Denzel Whitaker, Holland Roden, Keegan Allen, Ronen Rubinstein
- Produced by: Sonia Lisette, Will Wernick
- Written by: Will Wernick
- Studio: Escape Productions
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