One of my favorite recent reads was “No Exit” by Taylor Adams. This fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller wasn’t just a universal favorite on BookTube but guaranteed to pull you out of any reading slump. It only took me a couple of days to finish and I remember thinking how the story would make for an excellent film adaptation. Little did I know that HULU was way ahead of me; dropping their screen rendition late last month. I was excited by the news but also worried the live-action version wouldn’t do justice to the written word. Before I break things down, be warned this post is loaded with heavy SPOILERS for both the book and film. This is geared for those who’ve already read the book so, if you haven’t done so already, I suggest you stop reading this blog and immediately seek out the novel. I think the less you know going in, the more fun the ride will be, and this comparison will certainly be waiting for you upon your return.
The story centers around Darby, a young woman traveling through the Rocky Mountains amidst a snowstorm to see her dying mother. The worsening conditions force her to take refuge at a rest stop where she encounters four seemingly innocent strangers. She soon learns that at least one of them is harboring a dark secret after noticing a little girl chained in the back of one of their vehicles. From this moment on, it’s a race to try and rescue the child while battling the elements and the would-be trafficker(s). Adams’ story is loaded with twists and turns and although the term “thrill-ride” is often overused, it’s well-earned here. The film is decent but lacks much of the book’s excitement. It does stay fairly true to the story despite some deviations. Such as…
Darby – In the book, Darby (played by newcomer, Havana Rose Liu) is a University of Colorado student. She receives a call from her estranged sister informing her their mother is nearing the end of her battle with terminal cancer. Riddled with guilt, she drops everything to make the interstate journey to see her. Darby’s relationship with her mother is tenuous at best and she wasn’t even aware of her illness as the two hadn’t spoken since she left for college.
In the film version, Darby is staying at a California rehab facility. After hearing the news of her mom from her sister (who openly resents her in the screen version) Darby breaks out, stealing a staff member’s car. In another twist, the owner of this vehicle (apparently still struggling with his own addictions) has a stash of cocaine inside; presenting a source of temptation for Darby. Drugs were never a component of the book. Although I understood their using it as a plot device, I honestly thought the book was more relatable. It was a strained relationship between a parent and an adult child with no clear villain – something I’m sure many readers can understand. Darby falls asleep on the side of the road and a state trooper suggests she go to a nearby rest stop. Her nap provides viewers with all this exposition through a dream.
Casting – Ethnicity aside, I think the actors were well matched with the characters in print. Lars (David Rysdahl) was almost spot on what I imagined while his evil brother, Ash (Danny Ramirez), seemed less charismatic than depicted in the book. Ed is played by Dennis Haysbert a.k.a. the Allstate Insurance guy which was almost comical considering how these characters could probably have benefited from roadside assistance. Ed has more action in the film giving his sudden death more impact. Liu handles her character well. At one point her arm is nailed to a wall and her reaction – a combination of shock, fear, and pain seems genuine. This fledgling actress may have a bright future.
Sandi – The character, Sandi (Dale Dickey) remains an accomplice in the film, albeit a more sympathetic one. In the book, she’s Jay’s school bus driver and, in the film, a disgruntled housekeeper who turns a blind eye when Lars and Ash break in and kidnap her. This brings me to our next character…
Jay – The girl in jeopardy, Jay (Mila Harris), is far less angelic onscreen than she is in the book. In one flashback scene, she threatens the overworked Sandi to make a fool of herself on social media, lest she tells her parents she caught her smoking pot on their porch. Both the book and the movie error in making Jay more mature than her age. But, while no one can condone the little girl’s intended fate, Sandi is given a slightly more favorable motive outside of greed. That is revenge for having been constantly humiliated by an over-privileged brat.
The Nail Gun Massacre – In the film, the rest stop is under renovation, providing an opportunistic Ash with his signature weapon. In the book, it was always his artillery of choice and had even been used on Jay prior to their arrival at the rest stop.
Cocaine to the rescue – I’m gonna give this movie props for not going in the obvious direction with that aforementioned cocaine. I assumed she’d get through the events of this movie and toss it out – a symbolic gesture to the viewer that she’s overcome her addiction despite the incredible stress. But nope, not in this movie. Instead, Darby snorts the coke to muster up some much-needed adrenaline in a pivotal scene. Inappropriate? Maybe, but it kinda made sense.
Ash kills Lars – Lars is more innocent in the film version; seemingly unaware of Ash’s (and his pedophile uncle’s) sinister intentions for the girl. In the book, he’s killed while separated from Ash while his brother slays him in the screen version.
In conclusion: The movie isn’t bad; well shot, well-acted, and with a few twists of its own. That being said, I much preferred the book’s clever ending vs the film’s. True, there are worse ways to spend your evening other than watching Hulu’s “No Exit,” though I know a much better one.
Reading the book!