I feel like I’ve set back Caucasian-Asian relations at least 50 years by watching this film.
No Escape is racist. There are no two ways about this. Whether the Brothers Dowdle (John Erick handling direction whilst his brother Drew helped write the thing) intended for No Escape to be so thoroughly, horrifyingly racist or just accidentally ended up making it so is irrelevant. No Escape is racist, to a genuinely mind-blowing degree. No Escape is basically a zombie movie with all of the mindless flesh-craving zombies replaced by evil Asians with no personality or insight who will rape and kill perfectly, sickeningly nice foreign White families at the first available instance.
Harsh? Arguably, no. No Escape is a film whose premise is already rather racist, but whose execution of said premise just keeps it barrelling down that path, committed to being as anti-Asian as is humanly possible. That premise, for those of you out of the loop, follows Owen Wilson as an American engineer at a water company. He’s been re-assigned to a suspiciously-unnamed country in South Asia and has dragged his wife (Lake Bell) and two daughters along with him. Unfortunately for our perfect American nuclear family, they’ve arrived quite literally hours before a brutal rebel uprising throws the country into chaos, and the next day Owen Wilson discovers that these very angry Asians have an especially murderous vendetta against foreigners, so he and his family must escape the hordes and try to find some kind of sanctuary or, failing that, way out of the country.
Hopefully you already see the inherent problem with this set-up, and it’s worse in practice. The Asians – and it already makes me feel I’m being forced into being racist by having to classify them in that kind of way, but the film gives them no other means of identity so there we go – are just this evil malevolent force with nothing else on their minds besides breaking stuff and killing people. They have no personality, no individual characteristics, and no subtitled dialogue. We the audience are purposefully kept at a distance from these people, so that we end up seeing them as this kind of non-stop ravenous horde that we must fear because they’ll kill the nice mostly-female family if we try to reason with them.
The film eventually gives an explanation as to why they’re all rebelling and murdering and stuff, as if it thinks that it muddies up the situation morally and keeps it from being racist. This doesn’t work for the simple and plain reason that the film just does not give a single damn about any one of its Asian cast. When we do get the explanation, it’s delivered by Pearce Brosnan. The Asians are still incapable of communicating in anything other than sadistic violence – sadistic violence that the film goes to great pains to ensure we know that those beating Owen Wilson half-to-death, or beating Lake Bell and preparing to rape her, or forcing one of Wilson’s precocious tykes to hold a gun to his head and pull the trigger are very much enjoying – so the audience is still taught to distrust and fear these crazed monsters who can’t be stopped and who we can’t understand.
In fairness, our perfectly sickly sweet nuclear family come across some Asians who don’t immediately attempt to kill them to death. Some even help them hide briefly, so #NotAllAsians and all that, can’t possibly be racist, right? Except, again, the film does not give a damn about any character whose skin is not White. As soon as a kindly Asian has done their duty of helping the family, they are promptly shunted off of the film with absolutely no care or interest as to their fate. They have no personalities, nothing to do except help the White family for about 10 seconds, are still treated as suspicious until they do Their Good Deed, and they are either immediately shot or immediately forgotten about as soon as they’ve done their nice thing. Again: the film doesn’t give a shit about its Asian cast. They’re disposable, in both the Evil Incarnate rebel crowd and the Red Shirt helpers, and you’re forced to alternately fear and not care about them because they’re not White.
But as for our main family? Oh, No Escape LOVES our picturesque old-school idea of the perfect American nuclear family. The film’s first 15 minutes – barring a prologue that shows how the uprising began, which is the only time we actually spend with any part of the Asian cast for more than 20 seconds, and which we are still given no real context to, so the film only wants you to react to the violence and not the characters because, again, it does not care about non-White people – are quite literally insufferable. The children are just so pure, and Owen Wilson is just such an everyman, and he and Lake Bell have jokes about personal rice cookers, and everybody just loves each other so very absolutely huggy much. I almost vomited at just how sickly sweet this family is, and how perfect they are, and why do these mean Asians want to hack them all to death? The young girl just wanted her stuffed toy and their murderous desires mean that she will never see it again! 😦
THAT’S the issue. The film does not care about anybody that’s not White – or, more specifically, our perfect all-American family – and so orders and trains us to not give a shit about non-Whites by removing any and all context for anyone who is not White. The Asians can’t speak English, don’t have subtitles, and more-often-than-not either try to murder or sell out our nice American family. And it’s so gleefully brazen about that fact, too. Again, even after the rebels are given a justifiable reason for their anger (but not their murdering), the film makes sure to keep the EEEVILL Asian behaviour far enough in the objectionable side that we will all be terrified and wary anytime our perfect family comes into contact with anyone.
So, No Escape is racist. Plain and simple. What little the film does right – it has committed performances and… well, that’s it, really – is in service of that horrendous retrograde racism that smothers the film to death. I mean, the film is also terrible in other, vastly more boring ways – it stretches a way-too-thin premise and story well past breaking point, its endless shaky-cam is nauseous, and the film’s constant usage of pointless suuuupeeerrrr-ssslloooooo-moooooo makes multiple scenes inadvertently hysterical – but the active racism is the film’s x-card that it waves high and proud in the sky without a care in the world. Without it, like if the movie replaced the Asians with zombies, it would be just another terrible dull thriller. With it, it’s one of the most disgusting movies I have seen in a long while.
One could argue that such a creative decision was the entire point, because at least then we’re talking about the film. If that were to be the case, I’m even more disgusted and appalled by everybody that got involved in this. Do not encourage them for it.