By Leah Greenblatt
May 10, 2018 at 11:30 AM EDT
Credit: Joss Barratt/IFC Films

The Escape (2018)

  • Movie

Its title sounds like the premise for some kind of high-adrenaline adventure about maze-running or outgunning a nuclear apocalypse. But The Escape is both less thrilling and much scarier, in its own way — a quiet domestic-drama chamber piece with a vein of pure desperation thrumming beneath it.

Gemma Arterton (Their Finest) is Tara, a young mother going through the motions in a featureless England commuter town. She cares attentively, if hollowly, for her two small children (real-life siblings Teddy and Florrie Pender), bathing and feeding and shuttling them to and from school, and submits to her cheerful businessman husband, Mark (Preacher‘s Dominic Cooper), who still seems to want sex like a newlywed.

Behind her wan smile, though, is a silent scream; she’s barely hanging on, and no one seems to notice how unhappy she’s become. If they do sense something, her son and daughter are too little to articulate it, and Mark is only mildly perplexed when Tara tries to float a life raft, saying she wants to sign up for an extension class in the city. (She’s become obsessed with book of medieval tapestries she picked up there, as if she could somehow slip inside their woven fantasias of noble ladies and unicorns and disappear).

Writer-director Dominic Savage, in his feature debut, doesn’t bring much new to the Diary of a Mad Housewife milieu, but he treats the subject with a fine, unshowy sensitivity. And he’s lucky to have Arterton, an actress whose career breakthrough came, inauspiciously, as a doomed Bond girl named Strawberry Fields in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Her performance is almost completely interior, a series of fraught close-ups only occasionally punctuated by dialogue. It helps that her face gives so much, when Tara’s backstory is hardly a sketch; beyond her love of tapestries, there isn’t much context for the kind of person she might have been before, or the private hopes and dreams that somehow led her to where she is now.

The script breaks away when she does, bolting to Paris with little more than an overnight bag and a sudden urge to see the art works she’s been clinging to. That’s also where it veers toward something more conventionally movie-like — a pivot that doesn’t quite connect to its first half, but brings a welcome taste of freedom to Tara’s cloistered world. It still stops well short of a pat resolution though, too aligned with her pain to pretend that a real escape would ever be that simple. B

The Escape (2018)

  • Movie
  • Dominic Savage