A wilderness camping trip in the rural terrain of an Alaskan landscape becomes the serene backdrop for a pair of couples on a romantic getaway. With their backpacks in tow and a sense of adventure in hand, one of aspirations amongst the peaceful setting would be to create an ideal engagement spot for a happily affectionate couple while the other couple taps the trip as a therapeutic escape to rekindle or salvage a flailing relationship. Deeper and deeper they trek into the woods that begins to feel engulfing with a sense of lurking, ominous eyes voyeuristically peering at them from afar and as gunfire rings out in the distance and camping gear winds up missing, spine-tingling fear starts to set in for the couples eager to leave quickly as they came, but those in the woods, those menacing figures that have been keeping distance, are now toying with the campers’ very lives.
Impelled into a throng of horror films set with backpackers becoming lost on a camping trip with a mysterious figure in the midst, “No Way Out” struggles to find a distinct voice from writer and star Chris Levine and introducing Joe Hamilton in his very first feature length directorial. Following his 2017 “Anabolic Life,” a crime-injected thriller circled around bodybuilding, co-written alongside Cameron Barsanti and Landon Williams, Levine steps solo into the horror ring, penning a camping-gone-wrong 2020 released thriller that displays themes of secrecy, family, and the mentally unstable futile pursuit of happiness compounded by half-frozen isolation off of sideroad Alaska and a tactical gas mask wearing loom creeping through the thicket. “No Way Out” is an independent funded production by the Alaskan based companies, Baird Media (Charles A. Baird) and RocketJoe Films, which I believe “No Way Out” used the latter company’s monolithic humanoid props from a defunct film entitled “Seven Bones,” and in association with services provided by Levine’s own co-founded London Levine Pictures company.
The small cast is centrically focus around the four campers for approx. 98% of the film, only briefly swerving away from the core characters to interject some meaningless exchanges between backpackers and to also setup a lying-in-wait antagonist to build up prelude suspense. Leading the foursome is Chris Levine as a multi-hat contributor along with his written and co-produced thriller by playing Blake, a hands off, anti-woods boyfriend being dragged against his will to go camping in order to recoup his girlfriend’s goodwill in their sinking relationship. “Apocalypse Rising” and “President Evil’s” Johanna Rae is Blake’s contentious other half as girlfriend Jessica. The dynamics between Levine and Rae couldn’t push the turbulent couple’s interpersonal problematic parameters beyond the scope of vomiting their frustrations to the same sex individual of their camping buddies on the trip with only one minor other instance of a short-lived spat in an attempt pull in some kind of concerning emotion for either Blake or Jessica, but the scene falls flat and so does that thick air tension that repels any kind of bridging of the gap forcing Blake and Jessica to seem not like a couple with progressing relationship issues, but rather argumentative friends with benefits. On the other side of spectrum, Norah (Jennifer Karraz) and Kyle (Christopher McGahan of “Virus of the Dead”), portray parallel mirror opposites of a happy-go-lucky couple on the brink of engagement and parenthood and while the couple should be gleaming with affection, Norah and Kyle barely speak a couple of sentences to each other, marking their character profoundly shapeless and plain among the limited roles to root for survival.
Aside from not being able to relate to the characters, who more or less meander about asking each other what they should do or not do next, “No Way Out” can’t find a way out of the nonsensical design to shepherd audiences into the throes of character plight and make the hairpin turn toward revealing the abhorrent culprit of their situational terror. The story seems stuck in a rut in garnering not enough background or tidbits of intricacies to formulate a clear answer to the subtle hints being conveyed along the way about what’s unfolding before our eyes. Luckily, our brains start to take over, filling the gaps where needed, and coming to a haphazard conclusion that through the characters wavering suspense of the unknown encased around them, not everything is what it seems and that aspect really comes early on in the film, whittling down the complexity of the story to a low-effort thriller that can be solved by the time the four campers reach their terminus by car and have to hoof it aimlessly rest of the way. Unfocused editing of a fragmented story and misused ambience, such as the prolonged whooshing of highway cars when characters are supposed to be deep in the woods, added to the viewing friction. I liked the headspace of the story concept for “No Way Out,” where a shadowy, uncouth stalker sets a target on unsuspecting camping folk accessorized with a shrouded plot twist, but, ultimately, the execution flopped as a pitched tent overwrought thriller set in the icy, backwoods topography of Alaska.
From filmmakers Chris Levine and Joe Hamilton comes a brand a new backpacker thriller, “No Way Out,” premiering the last weekend of August in Alaska and then hitting VOD platforms in the next couple weeks, including Prime Video, Google Play, Pluto, Tubi, and more. Since “No Way Out” is a new, completed feature film and a digital screener was provided for review coverage, the typical A/V evaluation will not be done, but the debut of cinematographer De Gosh Reed’s hybrid found footage and observational shot style captures a pair of perspectives of not only an outsider, but also as the characters to join in as a terrified participant. Aforesaid, the English language audio mix is a bit wonky with some ambient missteps. The dialogue also comes and goes in an undiscernible pinpoint of depth that, at times, is trounced by the steadily vivacious soundtrack. The film felt very technically raw and unfinished, but, again, this is a digital screener of an unreleased film on the brink of debuting and maybe altered or adjusted for the premier/VOD. There were no special features included with the screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Though not my cup of flavored untamed tension tea, “No Way Out” has the bones to be a straight forward VOD thriller outlier despite being misshaped and disjointed around the particular edges.