Tag Archives: John Erick Dowdle

Bad Trip

Owen Wilson and fam run into trouble on other side of the world

THE COUP

No Escape

Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

R

Less than 24 hours after relocating to take a new job in Southeast Asia, an American businessman and his family find themselves in the middle of a violent political revolt.

That’s really all there is to No Escape, but it’s enough to fill 103 minutes with a surge of raw, primal-survival adrenaline as Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) make a life-of-death dash along a terrifying gauntlet of madness, murder and mayhem.

The movie was filmed in Thailand, but the country in which the (fictional) No Escape takes place is never named—likely because the filmmakers hope no specific part of the world (like Thailand) takes it personally. The rioting “natives” are a nameless, voiceless, mostly faceless horde of marauding Asians, but they might as well be zombies—or mutants, demons or even the Devil himself. Director John Erick Dowdle, working from a script co-written with his collaborator/brother Drew, keeps pulses pounding with some of the same pulpy shocks and lurid sights he used in the schlock-horror flicks Quarantine (2008), Devil (2010) and So Below (2014).

Dowdle knows what makes an audience jump, jolt and squirm—like with a sequence in which Jack has to get his family, and himself, from one high rooftop onto another. But other parts of the movie are a mess: the editing is a jumble; action scenes downshift into slurry, blurry slow-mo for no good reason; in one scene, daylight abruptly turns into full nighttime; in another, it’s dry one second and pouring rain the next.

THE COUP

Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson

Bodies pile up, buildings are bombed into rubble, Americans are slaughtered in the streets. The title tells us there’s “no escape,” and for much of the movie, it sure looks that way. (The movie was originally titled The Coup, but test audiences apparently found that “foreign” phrase unappealing.) Thank goodness for Pierce Brosnan, who keeps showing up at just the right time as a British expatriate who knows his way around town, and then some. His character also provides a mini-lesson in the politics, multinational colonialism and economics that have caused the roiling ruckus—and the mob’s seething hatred of Americans.

Wilson is best known for playing doofuses, and it’s interesting to see him in an out-of-his-element “everyman” role with more grit than goof-ery. Bell, currently starring in the Netflix comedy series Wet Hot American Summer, isn’t given much to do other than react to the horrific scenario.

Dowdle amps up the tension, in scene after scene, of the terror of a white man, his wife and their two young daughters under the constant threat of being beaten, raped or killed by an all-male horde of “fourth-world” monsters. You may wince at its less-than-noble notions of race and cultural relations, but you can’t say that No Escape isn’t well timed. With a leading U.S. presidential contender campaigning to put up a wall to keep immigrant “rapists” and “killers” at bay, it seems safe to say a good number of people won’t have much trouble relating to Jack Dwyer’s desperation to shield his wife and kids from people on the “other side” of the world practically salivating to make them suffer and bleed.

At one point, Brosnan’s character notes the situation’s blurred moral boundary lines—which give clarity to their situation. “There’s no good or bad here,” he says. “There’s just getting you and your family the hell out.” Once a lot of viewers get out of the muddled, nightmarish obstacle course that is No Escape, they might just see clearly enough to vow to never venture off the green, green grass of home ever again.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Look Out ‘Below’

‘Found-footage’ scare excursion is a subterranean mess

8H89_TP_00017R

As Above, So Below

Starring Perdita Weeks & Ben Feldman

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

Rated R

If young actors ever stop filming themselves going into creepy places, Hollywood’s going to be in a real pickle—filmmakers will have to come up with some other premise for movies like this one, in which yet another batch of 20-somethings go exploring somewhere goose-bumpy, “documenting” the whole thing from the get-go.

This “found footage” technique started back in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project and spawned an entire sub-genre of horror-movie filmmaking, wherein the video that the characters make is later “discovered” and becomes the movie itself.

In As Above, So Below, British actress Perdita Weeks plays Scarlett, a spunky, sexy young history buff-archeologist-adventurer-truth-seeker looking for the Philosopher’s Stone, an ancient fabled object supposedly endowed with magical and mystical properties, including the power to heal and turn objects into gold.

8H89_TP_00003RAll signs point Scarlett, her clue-deciphering friend George (Ben Feldman, who plays Michael Ginsberg on Mad Men), and their tag-along documentary filmmaker, Benji (Edwin Hodge), to the catacombs underneath Paris, the labyrinth of tunnels where some six million bodies have been interred for centuries. Linking up with a trio of cocky, graffiti-tagging French spelunkers, they dig in.

If you’re looking for good scares, you’ll have to wait a while; it takes a while to get going in the shock-o-rama department, and starts out much more in Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider mode. For the first hour or so, it’s all blah-blah and buildup, which adds a bit to the creep-out factor but will disappoint anyone expecting something scarier.

The explorers have to crawl through a narrow passageway full of bones; Benji freaks out and gets stuck. Then they find out they’ve been going in circles. They come across a room full of topless chanting women—ooh la la! And when the real “jolts” start coming, they somehow don’t seem to alarm anyone nearly as much as you’d think they would, especially when things take a decidedly weird, paranormal turn.

“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” reads the inscription over one passageway they encounter. Hmmm, notes Scarlett “That’s the inscription over the gates of hell.” But in everyone goes—of course.

8H89_FPF_00155RThe plot meanders, like the characters, who spend the majority of the movie lost, wandering, scooting, squirming, slithering, sliding, crawling, running, splashing, or thrashing around in the semi-darkness, rappelling up and down holes, and peeking, panting and peering around corners. It’s almost feels like they’re looking for not only the Philosopher’s Stone, but also a basic storyline, much like the audience.

Things eventually turn violent and bloody, and even more confusing. At the end of it all, it’s a hopelessly tangled, shaky-cam knot of “gotcha!” haunted-house images, loopy, incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo and bargain-basement recycled ideas from other movies. As Above, So Below is reportedly the first movie ever given permission to film in off-limits parts of the Paris catacombs, the largest cemetery in the world. Too bad it comes out such a super-sized subterranean mess.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , ,