I recently had the opportunity to talk to the director/producer sibling duo, John Erik Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (As Above So Below, Quarantine) who are behind the latest thriller, No Escape starring Lake Bell and Owen Wilson. I’m so excited to share that interview as well as my review of the Blu-ray below. Check it out:
First, I loved the directing. I think this is one of the best works of directing this year. So John, what was your favorite scene to shoot?
John: Thank you! Oh gosh, I would say one of my favorite scenes to shoot was Jack taking the moped through the parade going in the other direction. It’s in there, unsaid that there’s bad approaching from that direction. Seeing that parade coming by, it was kind of like you were really in the movie. Same with when Jack approaches the Embassy and he goes over the barricades. We had like no time to block the street off and set up all of the stuff but those long silent moments…there’s just something beautiful about shooting on set that day.
Drew: I would add the official riot scene…the police officers and rebels were stunt men and we had rehearsed it and knew that it would be pretty violent but something about actually standing there on that day, with all of the smoke and everything, it looked so real. It felt really authentic. It was like day three or something and there were about 600 people there that day but I loved that.
Speaking of challenges, what was the most difficult scene to shoot?
John: (laughs) Well we didn’t have a super long schedule so day after day, we thought, “Oh my God, we’re shooting this today and tomorrow we’re shooting that?” So it was really a challenge from day to day and we didn’t really have days to spare so we couldn’t blow a day. And we couldn’t skip scenes because it’s all pretty linear. There are so many scenes that were challenging but I would say the rooftop sequences…we spent so much time figuring out ideas for that and doing the stunts. We had a real helicopter up there, we had a real helicopter carcass that we dropped onto the roof. That was a big, big deal.
Drew: I think that had the most pieces and most time spent on it. There’s just so many elements to that scene, it’s almost like five scenes in one. The most brainpower went into that one.
John: And it’s like, “How do I throw a kid off a rooftop and make it not look super fake?” Thank God the kids were so courageous. We threw the kids off – not that rooftop – but a four story rooftop and they had harnesses but still, it’s really scary. I did the jump face forward and it was terrifying so I can only imagine how it was falling backwards.
Drew: They really brought it. We saw them in auditions but you just never know. We had a 39 day schedule and I think they shot 32-33 days and they were good right up until the end, they never dropped off.
Having shot on location in Thailand, I’m wondering had you guys been there before this movie came about?
John: We had visited a couple of times, three or four times. We had a pretty big traveling family so we bounced all over the place at some point. We actually based the girls on our sisters who were about the same age as them when we went in high school. It was amazing shooting in Thailand too, we had such a great time there.
Drew: John went with our dad in around 2006 and I was busy so I didn’t join them but they got there the day after smoke had erupted in Thailand. My dad said that it was still safe, so they went. There was military presence everywhere and when John came home, they were going down the path of a quarantine at the time. John started spinning ideas and so the idea of the movie was originated in Thailand. Then we went back in 2008 for a location scout.
John: Then, when we shot the riot scene, the government came and shut it down because they were worried that someone would take a picture or camera video and it would spark a real riot. So there were moments when fiction and reality were getting a little too close. (laughs)
So which scenes would you say had the most rewrites and evolved the most?
Drew: The plane. (laughs) We worked on that a lot. It’s not very exciting sitting on a plane but we wanted to share where the family was at and introduce Jack and set the stage…everything else… well, we went through four financers and which each partner, there were changes. With each divorce, we kind of undid all of the changes and went back to what’s very, very close to the original. What was shot was so close to the 2007 original draft so it’s interesting how it kind of went back to the original over and over again.
So how much research went into the story before writing the script?
John: A ton, a ton. Drew and I are sort of manic researchers. A lot of what happens in the movie comes from incidents whether in Cambodia or Mumbai in 2008, we really studied a number of incidents and getting firsthand accounts from people who went through them. We traveled all over Cambodia. What is the prison where they executed people? You know? We searched for the footprints left behind these incidents. We took a lot from that.
Drew: Yeah. We shot in Thailand but we took pictures of everything in Cambodia to kind of match what we did when we shot.
Finally, have you two nailed down the dynamic between you two as brothers and you two on set?
John and Drew: Yeah.
John: We shared a bedroom growing up, we shared a car… growing up, we’ve always sort of worked together and our journey together has a blurry line. We co-write, I direct, and Drew produces but every decision that I make as a director, Drew is there for. We’re at the monitors together, Drew is in editorial with me every single day. We spend a lot of time focusing on the editing. It’s just something that we do together. It’s a blurry line but I’ve learned that when something’s bothering Drew, it will bug about 30% of the test audience, so I’m better off listening to him earlier in the process. (laughs)
Drew: I’m not always warmly received (laughs) but we have a really good system. John will direct and I’ll go cover the rest of the world and then we come back and it works quite well!
With that, here’s my review of No Escape:
Release Date: November 24, 2015
Running Time: 103 Minutes
NO ESCAPE centers on an American businessman (Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia. Suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising, they must frantically look for a safe escape as rebels mercilessly attack the city.
When I first saw the trailer for No Escape, I was intrigued but wondered about the timing of the release of a movie like this given how intense the world continues to be, how much darker it seems to get and how much darkness is coming to light each and every day. And the Blu-ray/DVD release comes shortly after the Paris attacks. The bottom line is, there really isn’t a good time to release a movie like this.
So at this point in time, it doesn’t feel right to say that this movie is entertaining. It’s bone-chilling. It’s a thriller but it’s a very dangerous “what if” that doesn’t romanticize a single moment of the chaos and destruction and quick nosediving of humanity…the wrong thing done for the “right” reason scenario. It’s gruesome. It’s a terrifying survival story with tension in every single second. This movie is intense. If you think you can handle it, go ahead at your own risk. Just know that you’ve been warned.
I did really enjoy following Owen Wilson’s character, Jack (especially following Owen in a role so completely different from his usual comedic work – he nailed this role) and seeing his family navigate their way to survival. But even more, I appreciated seeing that American families and other tourists weren’t the only ones being killed. Everyone in the area, even locals were trying to escape the murderous paths of the rebels.
If there’s anything you get out of this movie, let it be that there are extremists and then there’s everyone else. No matter where you go. No matter what color your skin, what religion, etc… And here we follow one American family as they struggle to survive an experience they never dreamed in their wildest nightmares would happen.
All in all, this is a great film that delivers in tone, in pacing, in building the audience’s ability to root for these characters. I don’t want to say that I enjoyed this film per say but I do want to say that it packed quite a punch. So if you were interested in seeing this film and it sounds like something you want to see, or you’ve seen it before and want to watch it again, be sure to get the Blu-ray, DVD, or film on HD digital today.
Commentary – The commentary is conducted by director/producer sibling duo John Erik Dowdle and Drew Dowdle and touches on so many points that I was so curious about so if you can make it through a second viewing, I’d advise checking out the commentary.
Deleted Scenes (5 minutes) – There are two deleted scenes, “Hotel Morning” and “Hammond’s Breakdown” that come with the option to play all as well as play with or without commentary by John Erik Dowdle.
The scene in which Hammond tells Jack to cancel his sightseeing tour of the town with the girls and to trust him on this seemed like Hammond knew way too much about what was about to go down. Which has me very concerned because if he knew it was getting to be that bad, he should have told Jack to take his family to the airport. Or something. It was cut for time but I don’t think time was the big issue here.
The second scene seemed too out of character for Hammond and wasn’t matching the pacing of the rest of the film nor did it really move the story along, all of which are points that were touched on in the commentary, so I’m glad that it was cut. So, are the deleted scenes a must watch? I’d say no but if you go for one, go for the first.
Behind the Scenes (Approx. 13 minutes) – These mini featurettes show the cast and creatives talking about their involvement in the movie and what not. Typical press talk. There is the option to play individually by Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, and the Dowdle Brothers as well as the option to play all. There’s nothing here that you don’t already know but it’s something to watch while you decompress from what you’ve just watched.
Own No Escape on Blu-ray and DVD today.