The Way Out is an LGBTQ thriller that belongs in the same “tempting stranger” template as The Guest. Alex (Jonny Beauchamp) is a recovering alcoholic haunted by years of abuse at the hands of his father. His recovery wouldn’t be possible without the support of his friend Gracie (Ashleigh Murray) and sponsor Veronica (Sherri Shepherd). Alex longs to be a professional singer-songwriter but has found himself with a much more mundane life as a pizza delivery man. With his recovery going well, Alex decides to return to his father’s home and attempt to forgive him. Instead, he finds the old man dead on the floor in a pile of his own blood. Soon after, a mysterious, handsome stranger named Shane (Mike Manning) arrives to rent a room from Alex. The potent combination of tragedy and Shane’s seductive, violent nature lead Alex down a path he never would have expected.
As a thriller, The Way Out starts strong, building a mystery out of Shane’s background and manipulative machinations. Manning plays him with an unnerving, casual intensity that the attraction for someone as repressed as Alex feels believable. Beauchamp’s turn as Alex is also great. Alex is gay, but his history has left him with few outlets for healthy expression of his personal feelings. From the outset, it’s clear he can’t keep his eyes off Shane, and when Shane starts to control him, he willingly submits. It’s distressing but in-character. We like Alex. We hope he breaks free.
When building tension around Alex’s character — and developing him from someone meek into a man willing to defend himself and those he holds dear — The Way Out works. Unfortunately, the more we learn about Shane, he starts to feel less natural than Alex and not in service of a successful contrast. Certainly the two are supposed to be mirror expressions of unresolved trauma, but Shane’s character becomes so broad that it just never really lands. His big reveal at the end feels both obvious and strangely unnecessary. Their final confrontation feels driven by plot rather than character, and the last beats of the film do not emotionally land as well as they should.
Director Barry Jay (who also wrote the script) crafts a gorgeous film, though, which makes use of its generally confined settings to create a claustrophobic tone for Alex’s situation. Jay is adept at creating tension, sexual and otherwise, between characters by letting his actors express themselves without dialogue. He shoots romance and relatively chaste sex scenes in an erotic but not over-the-top manner.
Although The Way Out doesn’t quite come together in the end, the film contains a well-meaning message about the effects of trauma and abuse. Had Shane’s character felt more natural within the scope of the story, and had the final moments felt more focused on Alex, it would have managed a stronger landing.