No One Lives review

STOP! Before you go further I would like to point out that the high-octane, B-movie splatterfest that is Kitamura’s No One Lives is built around a high concept, and while not really a twist-based film, you may wish to see it cold for maximum pleasure. What you need to know is that it is an incredibly tight 86 minutes of amoral violence, gore and nihilism that hits the exploitation sweet spot so many aim for and miss.

A well-heeled couple (Evans and Ramsey) are driving on a quiet rural US backroad with a trailer hooked to the back of a shiny BMW – just passing through, as they say. Resting overnight at a motel, they head out to the only dive-bar-slash-diner in town and attract the attention of the Hoag family, a degenerate clan of redneck scumbags who live a life of bottom-feeding violent crime. Assuming the tourists have valuable belongings in their trailer and fat bank accounts to plunder, Flynn (Magyar) the most hot-headed of the oxycontin mafia, takes it upon himself to waylay them on their return to the motel.

No One Lives looks like it is heading for well-trodden torture porn territory as Flynn ties the couple to chairs in a dingy garage and prepares to extract the PIN codes out of them with the aid of a big knife. The tables are about to turn though. A secret compartment is discovered in the back of the BMW containing Emma (Clemens), a terrified girl who shrieks "please tell me you killed him" to the redneck’s general bewilderment.

You see, they haven’t got a yuppie tied up in the garage; they have a mass-murderer who combines the skill sets of Jason Bourne and Hannibal Lecter. Yep, it’s the immovable rednecks vs the unstoppable serial killer, and whoever wins, Emma loses (especially when the rednecks discover that she’s an heiress with a $2 million reward for her return).

That’s the setup. It takes about 20 minutes of the running time, and from this point on it’s full-on carnage.

Screenwriter Cohen’s deceptively straightforward plot and often hilariously perfunctory dialogue ("don’t shit where I eat") hides a rather clever piece of grungy pulp fiction which disguises an action movie within the carcass of a slasher film. From early on the rules of the game are established. It’s very bad guys (and gals) vs a very bad man. This means the gloves are off. Anyone can die, and die horribly, and therein lies much of the fun. Even Emma, set up as the apparent "final girl", is a rather dark character involved in a relationship with Evans’ killer that is more complex and twisted than it first appears. The rednecks are pretty much all repellent arseholes, while the unnamed psycho (simply called Driver in the credits) has some of the cool of Clint Eastwood at his most ambivalent – think High Plains Drifter – and clearly regards them as subhuman trash that he is going to enjoy taking out with prejudice that goes some way beyond extreme.

Evans is Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers with charm and an education, and most of the best lines involve his complete comfort in his skin (and his delight at parting others from theirs). He’s as lethal as The Terminator, but capable of wit. By making the Hoag family so unsympathetic he becomes the film’s de facto hero. This is a level of amorality and nihilism that will upset moral guardians (I can’t wait to see some of their reviews), but taken on its own terms is deliciously dark and wrong.

Japanese director Kitamura has tried to bring his delirious brand of kinetic filmmaking to English language audiences before with the ill-fated Clive Barker adaptation The Midnight Meat Train. Here he actually tones down some of his more florid excesses and ramps up the brutality, which is to the benefit of the film. At the same time he’s found a script and story with far less flab than Meat Train which suits his style. Kitamura fans shouldn’t worry though, he hasn’t gone dogma95 all of a sudden. The action scenes still flow beautifully, have real crunch and this is a very gory movie.

The grindhouse feel is perfectly captured by ace cinematographer Daniel Pearl shooting on 16mm. Pearl shot the original Tobe Hooper directed Texas Chain Saw Massacre (and the Marcus Nispel remake) and no-one knows how to make grunge look strikingly artistic any better than he does.

A nearly perfect B-movie, No One Lives is completely successful at what it sets out to do. The fact that some people will find what it does morally reprehensible is irrelevant. I can pay it no higher praise than to say that it feels like the sort of film Eric Red (Near Dark, Blue Steel) might have written in the eighties. Evans’ anti-hero shares some qualities with Rutger Hauer’s equally lethal and also strangely attractive mass killer in The Hitcher (one of Red’s other screenplays); also, the killer and his object of desire have a relationship not unlike that of Hauer and C Thomas Howell in that film. There is a sense that the killer is genuinely in love with his victim and may even be grooming her to carry on his work. Clemens is extremely good in the role, managing to appear both vulnerable and kick ass, and disturbingly lacking in empathy when the rednecks are being sliced and diced.

There are a few minor missteps; in particular, there is very gratuitous pair of naked breasts at one point that really feel like a salacious studio exec's idea of what a horror audience wants to see. However, this is balanced by an equally gratuitous appearance by Luke Evans backside earlier on.

It’s rather nice to see the figure of the seductive and nearly supernatural serial killer (a horror trope going back to Dracula and beyond) being snatched back from more reputable mainstream works and placed squarely back into the exploitation context from which he was taken. No One Lives is easily one of the best horror thrillers of 2013.

No One Lives at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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