Written by: David Cohen
Directed by: Ryûhei Kitamura
Starring: Luke Evans, Gary Grubbs, and Adelaide Clemens
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“You must be out of your mind."
"I'm very much in my mind."
"I'm very much in my mind."
If there’s one thing the WWE and Hollywood have in common, it’s their propensity for goofing up imported talent, so it’s appropriate that they’ve tag-teamed for Ryuhei Kitamura’s latest effort. After emerging as one of Japan’s promising genre directors, he came stateside to adapt Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, and, regardless of how one felt about the final product, it was tough seeing Lionsgate completely bungle his American debut by delaying the film and eventually dumping it into dollar theaters. Five years later, WWE Films has him helming No One Lives, another slasher film out of the post-Saw mold that gives Kitamura a chance to show off his penchant for splatter but not much else (not that we exactly require much else in this case).
It’s also a slasher with a bit of twist up front, which is always welcome, even if it starts out predictably enough: you’ve got your requisite, mysterious prologue featuring a girl running from an unseen assailant before the film settles in to introduce a couple (Luke Evans and Laura Ramsey) who are in the process of moving. The two decide to stop at a hole-in-the-wall motel, where they cryptically discuss the circumstances that have them hauling away from a bad situation. Meanwhile, there’s a pack of highway bandits (led by Lee Tergesen!) operating nearby who cross paths with the couple with an attempted robbery.
That’s the setup for a typical revenge/survival flick, but it turns out the bandits have messed with the wrong guy when they discover that he’s hiding another girl (Adelaide Clemens) in the trunk of his car. A prolific psychopath, the unnamed man (referred to in the credits as The Driver) abducted the college girl from a college party (after slaughtering 13 of her friends) and has become quite attached to her, so it’s a big mistake when the other bad guys grab her and intend to cash in on her family’s $2 million reward. If you’re the observant type, you might guess that they won’t make it out alive.
While this wrinkle is preferable to another run of the mill slice-and-dice slasher, one can hardly say it’s all that surprising since there’s something a little off about the couple’s interactions before they ever encounter their attackers. They seem to be bickering over the guy’s infidelity, but the girl’s cryptic dialogue and the presence of a weird scar are indicators that something’s just not right. Plus, I’m not convinced that Evans can be anything but creepy. Maybe it’s just some residual resentment from Furious Six, but he just has the type of face you immediately distrust.
Speaking of faces, there’s only one person in the whole thing that could be considered a babyface in Clemens, who spends most of the movie spouting inane dialogue and making the audience wonder if she hasn’t developed a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome for her captor (while she seems terrified of him, she almost seems to admire how good he is at killing people). So we’re left with the cinematic equivalent of a heel vs. heel match that finds Evans concocting various methods of killing these mostly anonymous bandits.
In fact, the movie seems to go out of its way to eliminate the more interesting characters. Wrestling fans eager to get a look at Brodus Clay’s acting chops will be left disappointed, as he’s filling out both the token WWE star and quickly-dispatched ethnic victim slots here. Likewise, Tergesen is a guy I wish I saw more of, even if it’s in stuff like this and The Collection. Here, he’s the gang’s ring-leader and patriarch and seems like he might have a shred of decency, especially when compared to his loose cannon son. No One Lives would have been more compelling if it had allowed this character to operate as the lesser of two evils and help Clemens escape from Evans. Instead, it’s much more listless and degenerates into a pretty standard body count movie despite the unconventional premise.
To its credit, No One Lives delivers in the one place that really matters, as it features an assortment of creative splatter gags brought to life by wonderful practical effects, just like God and Tom Savini intended it. It’s particularly reminiscent of 80s slashers in its Swiss-army knife approach that allows Evans to use anything he gets his hands on—from handcuffs to car engines to shower curtains—it dispatch his targets in gruesome fashion. The film occasionally shows reverence to Saw with some more torture-oriented sequences, and Evans’s psychopath is sort of an erudite Jigsaw wannabe who likes to spew a bunch of pseudo-psychological junk before dropping his victims into a grinder (in terms of coherence, his musings are maybe a step above the average Ultimate Warrior promo).
With Kitamura at the helm, the proceedings are slick and stylish enough; No One Lives might not be as weird and trippy as Midnight Meat Train, but it’s more satisfying because it only seeks to do one thing and does it quite well. And it does it quickly, too—it’s only about 78 minutes long and keeps its kills coming at a rapid clip (this is not to mention a random, sort of hilarious cat fight between Lindsay Shaw and America Olivo that proves these characters have nothing better to do than be terrible towards each other). It’s been several years since the WWE’s last slasher (See No Evil), but it looks like they’re carving a nice little niche for themselves (especially since they’ve recently announced a sequel to that film). No One Lives is left open for a sequel itself, and, if there’s any justice in the world, Bray Wyatt will find a way to wander into it somehow. Buy it!
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