Is No Escape, the new White Lotus-style thriller, worth a watch?
No two words have the capacity to inspire terror in parents quite like the words "gap" and "year", in that order. Given the freedom of a year abroad in a country far from watchful eyes, those once bouncing bundles of joy could and often do get up to all manner of mischief.
That is exactly what unfolds in No Escape, when best friends Lana (Abigail Lawrie) and Kitty (Rhianne Barreto) board a one-way flight to the Philippines, albeit with monkey business behind them in London as well as in front of them in Manila.
Armed with stolen credit cards and a perfectly forged signature, the pair quickly tick off the gap-year delights: roof-top bars, casual sex, beachside raves, then add in a bit of fraud and petty theft. But there is more to this than meets the eye.
The new Paramount+ drama opens in the style of many thrillers these days, with a mysterious flash-forward – a yacht aimlessly floats in the coral blue waters of the Philippine Sea, following a distress call to shore.
The police who come upon the modern-day Mary Celeste, adrift and deserted, find nothing but a creepy anguished message – "I confess" – written in what is a toss-up between ketchup and blood, or an unlikely mixture of the two.
When the thriller flashes back six weeks, we see how Lana and Kitty came to be on said party yacht The Blue and meet its eccentric crew of wayfaring misfits.
Once the two Brits abroad agree to stay the course on the creaky yacht, The White Lotus-style tale of insecurities and burgeoning sexual tension unfolds in its claustrophobic cabins, with newcomers Kitty and Lana taking up the mantle of Sicilian double act Lucia and Mia.
They're told by the domineering unofficial captain Aaron (Jay Ryan) – who has taken a hiatus from the domesticity of his wife and child to sail the seas of south-east Asia – that there is absolutely, positively, no sex between the crew members of his majestic liner.
Meaning there absolutely, positively, will be sex had between the crew members.
Amid the bubbling chemistry between Lana, Kitty and their cabin cronies, the drama of No Escape gets going when they come across an abandoned ship at night. The crew decide to make off with a smells-like-drug-money bundle of cash stored on board and their seafaring idyll goes pear-shaped.
No Escape may not boast the dark satire or build the tension quite as exquisitely as Mike White's powder-keg hotel sojourns, but that's a tall bar to clear. Yet just as in White Lotus, the characters that gather as part of this wandering motley crew turn out to be harbouring secrets that start to unravel.
While the flash-forward is a reminder that this drama is leading nowhere good, the pace of the show is slightly hampered by the multiple timelines.
We see Lana under interrogation in Australia, once The Blue has been discovered. When the detectives play her Kitty's distress call from the yacht, she frets for her friend behind a poker face claiming to know nothing of the deserted vessel.
While we understand Lana and Kitty are besties, because they say as much, we're not shown much evidence beyond that. When we get a greater understanding of each – quiet and calculating Lana, brash and hard-partying Kitty – you wonder if they're the type of friends that met as tots at school and, despite becoming radically different people, never had the nerve to sever ties.
And now they're trauma-bonded over whatever happened in London and on The Blue.
Much like The Beach before it, the drama of No Escape is occasionally upstaged by the lush backdrop of Thailand, where it was shot. Mesmerising offshore rock formations and characters lolling in hammocks half asleep draw the eye away from the principal drama, leaving you to wonder whether the intrigue and mistrust aboard The Blue could really be that bad.
The needle drops are another high point, with Brit musicians Mahalia and Joy Crookes bringing a fresh party feel, while also reminding us of whatever it is Lana and Kitty are on the run from.
That urge to bring each of the questions left up in the air plummeting back down to sea level is enough reason to binge all seven episodes.
All episodes of No Escape are now available to stream on Paramount+.
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