On the surface it’s easy to pass off The Way Out as a trashy B-movie, one that hijacks the entertaining thriller subgenre of “the bad roommate”, ala Single White Female, and bring it to current relevance by infusing it with a fluid sexuality. And though that can be said about the film, writer/director Barry Jay (founder of Barry’s Gym) has utilised his own traumatic background and injected topical issues, such as sexual abuse and alcoholism, to lay the eventual carnage with a message.
The film opens on the failed suicide attempt of Alex (Jonny Beauchamp) and his eventual road to recovery. A year on, with the help of his stern but sweet sponsor (Sherri Shepherd), he’s hoping to reconcile with his estranged father, an alcoholic himself, but upon his visit he arrives to a brutal murder scene. Whilst this in of itself could serve as an intriguing catalyst for Alex’s own continued path of sobriety, Jay’s script ultimately pivots away from the death itself and uses it as a tool to introduce Shane (Mike Manning, effortlessly handsome), a charming, walking red-flag, who is flush with a suspicious amount of cash and easily seduces his way into Alex’s life.
Alex needing a roommate to assist in the inherited debt he now has to take on as part of being left his father’s house means Shane’s coincidental appearance is a welcome one for the desperate Alex. Best friend Gracie (Ashleigh Murray) isn’t as easily fooled by the chiselled jawline and enviable abdominals of Shane, but she’s powerless against that with Alex, who takes Shane on, feeling a sense of safety being around him.
The cockiness and muscularity of Shane juxtaposes the timid frame of Alex, and it’s because Alex can’t help but admire Shane’s aesthetic – physically, sexually, and intellectually – that it makes perfect sense that he, blinded by his new best friend, disregards the warnings from those around him and entirely succumbs to Shane’s will. Of course, we are wise to the fact that Gracie was spot on with her ill-feelings towards him, but when Alex starts to feel better about himself, no other word but Shane’s seems to matter.
Though Shane puts us at a certain unease, he’s arguably The Way Out‘s most interesting character. When it’s revealed as to just what he gets up to when he isn’t working out or advising Alex on his sexual prowess, it’s a narrative shock that plays into Shane’s chilling unpredictability, but he’s also acting in a manner that eliminates threats worse than himself; posing as an escort, Shane arranges to meet with men under the guise of a sexual interaction, before he reveals he is aware of their sexual offender status and exacts a type of revenge against the children they have abused. One of these sequences – involving Mitch Silpa – turns violently bloody (nothing a gratuitous shower scene won’t fix afterwards), whilst the other incriminates Alex, which furthers Shane’s hold over him going forward.
Because Shane is as unhinged as he is, and because the effect he has on Alex results in the latter projecting a certain cocky aggression on a series of dates with men he was initially too coy to ask out, The Way Out would like us to believe that he is a cut-and-dry “villain”. Beauchamp is a little too timid in his performance as Alex that any of his apparent personality changes don’t come with an air of naturality, but, perhaps, because being a more forthcoming person is out of his comfort zone it makes sense that we don’t believe such a change. That’s where The Way Out also benefits from Manning’s appearance. He’s a far more intriguing character off the fact that he owns how sinister he is.
By no means does The Way Out celebrate Shane’s violent actions, but it serves as a tale as to how abuse can alter and distort a victim’s life and perception. Alex’s sobriety stays as the throughline for his character, as its Shane that derails his progress, leading to violence and his own self-destruction, whilst Shane is the cautionary embodiment of how abuse can envelop you if you don’t surround yourself with the right people. In spite of all that, as much as the film’s thematics and traumatic inspiration suggests it’s a heavy watch, Jay is still aware that a smattering of cheap thrills and melodramatic tendencies will keep it an entertaining watch as a subtle-free thriller that indulges in its guilty pleasures.
The Way Out is available On Digital and On Demand from February 10th, 2023.