“No Exit” is a snow-clad thriller film that follows Darby’s dangerous endeavor to free a kidnapped child while herself being stuck in a visitor’s center amidst a blizzard. The film does offer initial fun when it makes us, along with Darby, figure out who the owner of the van is that has little Jay in it. But this fun is soon outlived by a monotonous card game, which the film basically uses as an age-old formula to reveal the characters’ past. The film mocks our presumed notion that the person-in-doubt will turn out to be the helpful one. In the film, the person most doubtful is, in fact, the one guilty. In doing so, it makes itself predictable and robs us of our expectations. The following game of betrayal is underdeveloped, devoid of context, and without any motivation, all of which turn “No Exit” into just another survival thriller, one too repetitive.
The plot of “No Exit” revolves around five characters, including two pairs. Darby (Havana Rose Liu), the lead, is a twenty-something adult who is recovering from her drug addiction. We have Ed (Dennis Haysbert), who is a former Marine, and his wife, Sandi (Dale Dickey), who works as a maid. And finally, we have the brothers, Ash and Lars. Let’s explore these characters and their motivations to understand how they steer the film towards the end.
Darby undergoes therapy sessions in rehab due to her drug addiction. This has led her family to break all ties with her. However, when she finds out that her mother is on her deathbed, she breaks out of the facility and tries to drive to the Salt Lake City hospital, where she is admitted. But fate has planned something else for her as she has to make a long halt at a visitor center due to a raging snowstorm.
We can say that her care for Jay (the girl she finds inside one of the parked vans) is a result of the void she has in her heart as a result of her separation from her mother. While one may argue that this very feeling is what should have made her nonchalant towards the child, it feels otherwise. And this is where the irony comes into play. We know that Darby’s mother doesn’t want her to come and meet her at the hospital, which is a clear sign of her disgust.
On the other hand, we have Darby, who does all it takes to save Jay, playing the role that a mother should play for her child. Perhaps this nature of hers traces its roots from her concern for that lonely child who surely craves to be with her mother, something that she too wants but is unable to get. So, she does all that’s in her power to keep her safe. However, the fact that “No Exit” doesn’t show any interaction between Darby and her mother doesn’t allow us, the viewers, to connect with the sense of loneliness she is subjected to (being detached from her family). We do not know precisely why she is so alienated from her family, so even when the film tries to mend the ties (Devon comes to visit Darby at the end of the film), the attempt feels futile.
Rather, what seems to be the most original element of Darby’s arc is when she snorts cocaine to give herself the boost she needs to escape from her agonizing state (she is able to pull the nail out of her wrist using the hammer) and ultimately save Jay, despite taking a bullet. This can easily be interpreted as a message wherein Darby, an addict, makes or tries to make amends by pulling off a superhuman feat that results from the addiction itself. Doesn’t this question her worthiness to deserve compassion as a lonely and unwell person? We may judge ourselves for saying no, but deep down, when it comes down to it, we are inclined to think that Darby won’t come out of her addiction. And the very beginning of “No Exit” tells us that she has been in a recovery center for at least 2 years. This stresses the degree of her addiction as well as compels us to think that something grave must have happened in her family to have not only sent her to rehab but also lose ties with her.
There is another suggestion. It just might be that she was the least-loved member of the family, which made her turn to drugs as a kind of vent. We have seen many films in which a character takes drugs because he or she wants to avoid pain, which, in this case, is separation. This again takes us back to the reason why Darby wanted to help little Jay. It is because she didn’t want Jay to feel the same way she did (and probably has all her life). But one thing is certain: sobriety was never a problem.
Ed and Sandi
Ed (Dennis Haysbert) is a former marine, and his wife, Sandi (Dale Dickey), is a maid. It is only at the end of “No Exit” that we realize how people who love each other so much and want to spend their lives with each other can have totally opposite mindsets. Clearly, Sandi is ready to go to any extent to get money (and lead a better life with her husband Ed), something that Ed didn’t want or expect.
Furthermore, Sandi’s need for money is only boosted by Jay, who turns out to be her boss’s daughter and who makes a fool out of Sandi all the time. Rage and anger propel revenge, which takes the shape of a kidnapping and ransom. She is the one who hires Ash and Lars to kidnap Jay. Perhaps Randi’s character is made more credible than Darby’s. We can understand the need for money to have a family, and it is not that hard to nod to Sandi’s desperation. Her expectations are also dashed when she learns that Ash and Lars will not return Jay but will instead take her along with the ransom. Ed is shown to be the more realistic and stronger half of the couple. It is clear how much Randi relies on her. And yet, the film kills him without letting him have any true sense of purpose. Randi is also killed right after. Their deaths are pathetic and fail to hit the spot; the reason being the same, i.e., there is not much context.
Ash and Lars
The antagonists of “No Exit,” Ash and Lars, are brothers. But Ash is the most motivated towards their cause. Lars is more often than not lost in his own world. We do not get to know much about these two other than the fact that they work for their foster dad, Uncle Kenny. It is Kenny who has brought them into their present line of work, i.e., kidnapping children and finding better homes for them. There is a caring nature in Lars that is made evident at least twice; once when he yells at Ash to stop him from pinning Jay’s wrist on the floor, and twice when he yells at Jay as she inches towards the switchboard. He has the gun, but he doesn’t shoot. Also, he is the one who comes and checks on Jay while she is in the car. He brings food and turns on the car heater to keep her warm. It’s tragic that Lars dies at the hands of his brother Ash. He never meant harm and yet had to pay the price. Ash dies later, too, yes, but we are unaffected by it. At this point, “No Exit” has turned itself into a gore-fest filled with violence, blood, and body count.
There is another interesting angle to the film. Darby, Jay, Ash and Lars are all connected. How? Well, all of them are distanced from their families in one way or another. Darby’s family disapproves of her. Jay has been forcefully taken away from her family. And Ash and Lars were brought up by their foster dad (either their parents were dead or their parents had disowned them). While the film doesn’t explore any of the families, family is a chain that links these four (not in their world, but for us).
‘No Exit’ Ending Explainer: Is Darby With Her family?
The end of “No Exit” reveals that police reacted to the message Darby sent from the dead cop’s communicator. Then we see her in the same rehab where we first saw her. She now has a drawing of two girls holding hands, and the name Jay is also there. So it is a gift from Jay. Thus it is clear that Jay is not just with her family but also in touch with Darby. The drawing is a sign of Jay’s love for her. Moreover, the fact that Darby’s sister Devon has come to visit her is a sign that, after so long, her family may have accepted her back. But the fact that she is still in rehab points to two things: she is still trying to get over her addictions, and/or she now has to also learn how to cope with the horror of the events that she has just been through.
Adapted from Taylor Adams’ 2017 novel, “No Exit” is a 2022 thriller film directed by Damien Power.