The battle for streaming service supremacy has never been more competitive (or lucrative) as it is right now. Netflix remains the top dog by a pretty significant margin (around 220 million subscribers at last check). Amazon Prime Video (175 million subs) and Disney+ (120 million subs) are next in line. Further down is the Disney owned Hulu (43 million subscribers), one of the first real competitors to Netflix, but one who hasn’t been able to keep pace.
While Hulu has a sturdy subscriber base, it could finally be getting a much-needed boost thanks to 20th Century Studios. Also owned by Disney, 20th Century and its sister studio Searchlight Pictures will be releasing a chunk of their 2022 movies on Hulu (Hulu will likely have exclusive rights starting in 2023 after the current stream-sharing deal with WarnerMedia expires). That’s a healthy slate of exclusive movies coming to the service. Just recently it was announced that the Sundance hit “Fresh” will premiere on Hulu on March 4th. And this week we get “No Exit”, a taut suspenseful thriller that’s only available on Hulu.
Originally slated for a theatrical release, “No Exit” proves to be a good get for Hulu. It’s an adaptation of a 2017 novel by Taylor Adams with Damien Power directing from a screenplay by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. The movie is a crafty genre stew that’s part chamber piece, part old-fashioned whodunnit, and part crime thriller. There’s even a small dash of horror that adds to the second half tension.
Havana Rose Liu plays a young woman named Darby who we first meet during her seventh stint in drug rehab. Darby’s troubled and self-destructive history has led to her being shunned by her family. But when she gets a call that her mother has been rushed to the hospital with a brain aneurysm, Darby determines to go see her. So she bypasses the clinics strict protocols by busting out, stealing a nurses car, and heading off into the snowy night bound for Salt Lake City.
On the way, her GPS takes her off the main highway (don’t ever trust those things in movies) and up through the mountains. But as the weather worsens, she’s forced to stop at a visitor center where four travelers are waiting out the storm. There’s Ed (Dennis Haysbert), a former Marine who loves to gamble. There’s Sandi, (Dale Dickey), a former nurse and Ed’s wife. There’s the hunky and well-mannered Ash (Danny Ramirez). And lastly there’s the jittery and slightly neurotic Lars (David Rysdahl). Five people, each with something to hide in an isolated setting. Now all we need is a crime.
While in the parking lot trying to get a phone signal, Darby is startled by the muffled scream of a little girl (Mila Harris) who she finds tied-up with her mouth taped in the back of a van. With the roads closed and no way to call the police, Darby has to play it cool. Who kidnapped the little girl? Who does the van belong to? Someone in the visitor center is not who they say they are. But who?
In classic whodunnit fashion, the filmmakers set our eyes on the four suspects, giving us reasons to be suspicious of each of them. Then surprisingly, the film seems to tip its hand a mere 30 minutes in. But not really. Actually there are plenty more twists and turns awaiting us as the movie steams towards its violent and bloody final act. While some of the revelations are a little hard to swallow, the pacing is so propulsive that we never have time to sit and dissect it. And to be honest, I really didn’t care about a seamless resolution. I was having too much fun watching it all play out.
“No Exit” makes great use of its location, harsh setting, and small cast to deliver a crafty and surprisingly enthralling genre film. It may get a little carried away in its gnarly final 20 minutes or so, but it does such a good job keeping its audience locked into every crazy (and in some cases blood-splattered) new twist. And Liu, an actress I wasn’t familiar with before, really sinks her teeth into this character, both physically and emotionally. By the end of it all, I couldn’t help but be surprised and impressed. “No Exit” premieres Friday on Hulu.