A generic xenophobic survival thriller with great cast but plenty of B-movie problems
(WARNING: This review may contain spoilers. If you mind, just skip to the summary near the bottom.)
Coincidentally, this film was released in its origin country on the week where Bersih 4 was happening. Perhaps that's why the local distributor decided to release it here a week after instead. However, its premise is far beyond a peaceful rally. In an unspecified fourth world South East Asian country (filmed in Thailand but the language is a mix of Laotian and other languages), a large group of extremely hostile rebels are staging a coup due to years of dissatisfaction in how the country is run by their government, and one white American family is at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Right, so it's basically a xenophobic survival thriller about a white American family in a scary foreign place where Asians are weird and horible, and everyone must die just so that they could predictably live in the end, like in The Impossible (2012) but with rebels instead of tsunami. But despite being as generic and cliched as it is, the film still manages to be somewhat suspenseful and intense, largely thanks to the great performances of the main cast, especially Pierce Brosnan (James Bond 1995 - 2002) as the friendly and wacky British expat named Hammond, a character that's nothing like Brosnan's usual elegant roles. But too bad he disappears a lot in the movie, only popping out conveniently whenever the protagonist is in danger or needs answers, where the weak political message is suddenly stuffed directly into the audience's throats.
It's also refreshing to see Owen Wilson (She's Funny That Way, The Internship) in a serious non-comedy for a change. He plays protagonist Jack Dywer, an ordinary husband and father to a family who's just moved to this unfamiliar country for his new job as a water supply engineer. Lake Bell (Man Up) plays the wife, Annie, who's not very happy about their move. They have two very young daughters that they have to protect all the time while finding ways to escape the chaos, Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare), who could've been annoying in such situation but they're kids and it's a fair portrayal. Budget well spent on casting, but what about for the other departments?
Directed and co-written by John Erick Dowdle (As Above, So Below, Devil), the story and character development are so half-baked that it feels as though it's forced out of thin air from nothing but the producers' eagerness to simply make a xenophobic thriller. There are plenty of things in the film that are vague and simply do not make sense. For example, shouldn't Jack or Annie know or find out how bad the current political situation is in this country before deciding to move? Maybe that's the reason why the company employed Jack, 'cause he's too desperate and illogically stupid. And what exactly is the purpose of the rebels killing innocent people including their own countrymen if their objectives were only to run the country and "protect their own"? This is where the political subtext, which could've been a respectable element, fails as well.
The set and depiction on this "fourth world country" are very convincing. If you're not from this region, you'd probably believe that such crappy country with lousy locals exist, and you'd find the situation more relatable and engaging. However, it does lack of wide angle shots to truly seal the illusion of some of the thrills. Many of the action scenes and cliched moments could've been done way better as well. The key downsides are the unintentionally funny use of slowmo, annoying shaky cams, off timing sequences and the few obvious impossibilities and unrealistic moments like shooting down a sniper faraway with an ordinary handgun, and "sneaking" to the back of a rebel in open space when there are two other rebels facing the target. At the end, it just feels that the family didn't really struggle that much at all to escape a chaotic country filled with dangerous rebels.
Malaysia censorship: Nothing was cut at the local advanced screening as the film doesn't have any overly graphic violent or sexual sequences. F-bombs weren't muted either.
Second opinion: My girlfriend said she didn't like movie and for unknown reasons, she felt annoyed while watching it as well. Could be a mood thing.
Verdict: If this was a low-budget film released straight to TV or home video, it probably would've gotten slightly bit more respect.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Thriller, suspense, action
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenwriters: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Cast: Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell
Malaysia Release Date: 3 September 2015
Local Distributor: MM2 Entertainment
Production: Bold Films, Brothers Dowdle Productions
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