Alex Romero (Jonny Beauchamp) hasn’t had an easy life. On top of an alcohol use disorder, the protagonist of the movie The Way Out has intimacy issues with men as a result of an unhealthy relationship with his father. Just when things are starting to turn around for him, Alex suffers a major setback. Barry Jay‘s movie takes a closer look at its serious subject matter, interpreting everything through the lens of suspense-thriller. It certainly doesn’t pull everything off with ease, but the more successful parts of this gripping and sometimes affecting story win out.
While Alex is lacking in some areas of his life, he at least has a good support system. Best friend Grace (Ashleigh Murray) and AA sponsor Veronica (Sherri Shepherd) now help Alex through the next stage of his life: losing another parent. In an attempt to reconnect with him as part of his first year of sobriety, Alex discovers someone has murdered his father. The shock is softened by a cold comfort; Alex inherits his childhood home so long as he can make the back payments. Enter the enigmatic yet understandably alluring Shane, played by Mike C. Manning. Alex jumps on Shane being his new roommate despite glaring red flags and Grace’s disapproval. In due time the insidious Shane is doling out unsolicited advice, influencing Alex to be someone he isn’t.
The Way Out has the look and feel of a modern Lifetime thriller, but the story is a lot less conventional. In what might be erroneously summed up as a queer take on Fatal Attraction, the struggling Alex is looking for more than his Mr. Right. He wants outright guidance now that his father is gone, and making this situation more thorny, Alex and Shane develop a complicated relationship fueled by lust and manipulation. Another director might prefer subtext, but Jay doesn’t sit on the fence. No, this movie skips straight to second base and shows just how far Shane is willing to go to get Alex under his thumb.
In a nutshell, this story is about exploitation and how abuse doesn’t always have a clear start or ending. The Way Out digs its nails in, never afraid to bring up unsightly dirt about the characters. Alex is certainly no perfect victim, and his realistic flaws are refreshing. There’s always the risk of the antagonist in these kinds of movies being mechanically nefarious with no actual rhyme or reason behind their behavior. On the contrary, Shane is afforded a tangible origin that’s neither convenient nor rushed. Admittedly no one should be surprised by Shane’s intentions or endgame, but more shocking is how the director considers his rationale.
Committed and cogent performances are another saving grace about The Way Out. Beaumont plays Alex so he reads like an open book. He also doesn’t shy away when his character screws up. Manning stretches his acting toes in a different but equally textured role. The best-friend part in these movies have a tendency to be nothing but a way to further the main character’s story, however Murray’s Grace is provided her own stakes. It’s worth mentioning how sensible the writing is apropos of her friendship with Alex; the broken parts aren’t easily glued back together in the end. And what might have been a thankless and underwritten role for Shepherd turns out to be the story’s anchor. Veronica is the true voice of reason here.
The Way Out is never shallow, and it certainly doesn’t eschew its own darkness. The visual presentation can be best described as murky, and the events are, at times, too tragic and undue for their own good. Nevertheless, Barry Jay presents a stirring story of resilience and forgiveness wrapped inside of an exciting psychological-thriller.
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