No Escape - Intense Racism

Matthew Parkinson | 26 Aug 2015 12:00
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Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Produced by Drew Dowdle, Michel Litvak and David Lancaster. Written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Release date: August 26, 2015.

Likely to be more remembered for its racism than any of the thrills it manages to generate, the amount one can like No Escape essentially comes down to how much one can ignore anything other than its technical accomplishments. If it was possible to focus solely on how well it generates tension, No Escape might wind up being a shining example, one that we hold up among the greats as a "how to" manual of how to make this type of movie. But because most of us are thinking human beings, it's hard to separate the technical proficiency from its politics, which are just a little bit disgusting.

The story begins like many fish-out-of-water plots do. A family moves from their cozy American home to an unnamed country in Asia, and have to deal with all of the pesky problems that come with doing so, like finding a taxi, power outages, people who don't speak their language, and so on. The father, Jack (Owen Wilson), tries to find an English newspaper, but can only find one several days old. Upon walking back to his hotel, he finds himself caught in the middle of a coup. The Asian rebels are murdering everyone they see - but in particular Americans. So, Jack and co. need to continually try to run away from the villains - who essentially amount to every Asian in the film, save for maybe two - constantly finding themselves in peril and having to figure out another way to get out of danger.

No Escape CineMarter #1

Basically, it's a zombie movie, except that zombies have been replaced with Asians who have had enough. Enough of what, exactly? The film informs us at one point that they're revolting because of the way that American companies have managed to more or less own several of their important businesses through underhanded tactics. This isn't a focus, though, and if it was meant to give the villains sympathy - or establish intentional political commentary - it fails. Instead, we're forced to cheer for our white American protagonists, because that's the only way that the filmmakers think audiences will be able to care about what's happening. Never mind that the villains barely speak in more than grunts, and have precisely no characterization - acting in a mob mentality that portrays them as savages.

It's the same type of problem that The Impossible had a couple of years back, except No Escape is getting a wide release, while The Impossible wound up being largely forgotten about in the one or two art house theaters your city has - if you got it at all. Horrific events that impact - or end - hundreds to thousands of lives are filtered to the audience with white protagonists, missing a great opportunity to have the film be about the impact to the locals. Instead, we have to focus on the plight of American tourists, who most definitely have it harder than those who are part of the coup. I don't want to belabor this point, but it's really difficult to ignore.

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