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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In Theaters: NO ONE LIVES (2013)


NO ONE LIVES
(France/US/UK - 2013)

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura.  Written by David Lawrence Cohen.  Cast: Luke Evans, Adelaide Clemens, Lee Tergesen, Derek Magyar, America Olivo, Beau Knapp, Lindsay Shaw, Brodus Clay, Laura Ramsey, Gary Grubbs. (R, 86 mins)

With his 2001 Yakuza vs. zombies cult classic VERSUS, Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura seemed poised to break out as the next Takashi Miike.  Kitamura has remained busy, reaching Miike-like productivity with four films released in 2003 alone.  Kitamura went on to direct 2004's GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, the 50th anniversary epic Godzilla monster mash that many purists hated but it has its charms (most notably the American Godzilla--referred to as 'Zilla--from Roland Emmerich's much-maligned 1998 remake showing up and getting killed by the real Godzilla after about eight seconds of screen time, with the villain quipping "I told you that thing was useless!"), before trying to crack the American market with the 2008 Clive Barker short story adaptation THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN.  Lionsgate was undergoing a management change at the time and they wanted to move away from the "horror" label that they'd earned with the massively-popular SAW franchise.  As a result, all horror films except SAW got swept under the rug (including Joel Schumacher's surprisingly entertaining BLOOD CREEK), and THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, after several release date shufflings and months of the trailer being shown before nearly every movie I saw for the better part of a year with moviegoers inevitably snickering at the title, opened on a mere 102 screens to the tune of $35,000.  Kitamura and Barker blamed Lionsgate for the film's failure, but while the studio's bailing didn't help, the fact remains that it just wasn't very good, with its impact significantly dampened by some bush-league CGI gore, and it's a prime example of something reading a lot better on the page than it plays on the screen. 

Kitamura gives the American market another go with the Louisiana-shot NO ONE LIVES, co-produced by WWE Studios.  While distributor Anchor Bay rolled it out on just 53 screens nationwide, it had a marginally better opening weekend than MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, grossing $48,000.  It's too bad more horror fans aren't aware of this, or that Anchor Bay seems to be just settling for future DVD, VOD, and Netflix revenue, because NO ONE LIVES, while a tad illogical if you break it down, is the kind of raw, visceral, relentlessly-paced, drive-in-style B-movie thrill machine (Kitamura doesn't forget to include a completely gratuitous topless shot near the end) that you don't see much on the big screen these days.  It harbors no illusions about being anything more or deeper than it is:  pretty much everyone in the film is thoroughly loathsome, and they die in some inventively gory ways as the filmmakers do everything they can to make the movie's title a guarantee.

Kitamura and screenwriter David Lawrence Cohen cleverly sidestep any initial plot holes by kicking things off in medias res and letting the viewer piece most of the backstory together.  An unnamed man (Luke Evans), referred to only as "Driver" in the credits and his girlfriend Betty (Laura Ramsey) are moving, traveling the rural back roads, in pursuit of a new start.  There's a lot of vague dialogue about "having to leave," and Driver unable to control certain aspects of who he is.  It sounds like the two are recovering from an infidelity on his part, with Betty saying "Just tell me you love me more than her."  Meanwhile, local criminal lowlife Hoag (Lee Tergesen) and his crew of white-trash shitbags are in the middle of burglarizing a mansion when the family unexpectedly returns home only to be killed by Hoag's short-fused right-hand man Flynn (Derek Magyar).  Driver and Betty cross paths with Hoag and Flynn and the rest at a highway greasy spoon and shortly after, Flynn runs Driver and Betty off the road and makes off with their car and trailer, leaving burly idiot Ethan (WWE star Brodus Clay) to dispose of the couple.  Back at Hoag's house, Flynn discovers a hidden compartment inside Driver's trunk and inside is Emma (Michelle Williams/Carey Mulligan lookalike Adelaide Clemens of SILENT HILL: REVELATION), an heiress abducted from a college party six months earlier.  Emma warns them that they have no idea what they're up against and that "he's going to find you and he's going to kill you...you're already dead."

We never really learn what Driver is or how he's such a proficient super-psycho.  He's almost like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees if they possessed the lethal skills and training of Liam Neeson in TAKEN.  So what we end up getting with NO ONE LIVES is a pair of reversals:  first the tables being turned on Hoag & co, and then a reversal of a home-invasion thriller, with Driver killing Ethan and making his way to Hoag's house in a mode of transport that's, well, creative to say the least, and waiting outside while Hoag and his band of bad-tempered morons are trapped inside, risking death if they try to exit the house, and unable to call the cops because they're on the run as well.  Driver has the exterior of the house and the entire surrounding woods booby-trapped (hey, he works quickly), and no one seems to take Emma's warnings seriously, especially since she seems to maybe have a Stockholm Syndrome crush on her captor, almost enjoying watching Driver unleash hell on these fools.

There's really no defending a movie like NO ONE LIVES.  It's pretty dumb and it kinda flies off the rails in the home stretch, but it mostly accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do:  it dives right into the action, doesn't overstay its welcome with the closing credits rolling just before the 80-minute mark, and the pacing is so furious that you barely have a chance to stop and say "Wait a minute..."  It's a no-bullshit splatter flick, with Kitamura wisely not repeating the mistakes of MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN and going practical and prosthetic here: the blood is wet, sloppy, and chunky, and there's gallons upon gallons of it.  While the editing may occasionally be jerky and choppy in the action scenes, the gore has an admirable old-school '80s aesthetic to it, and I think NO ONE LIVES deserves some props just for that.  The film is definitely an acquired taste--if you aren't a gorehound, you best just walk on by--but it's a solid example of "check your brain at the door" horror mayhem done right.  This is going to make a quick exit from the 53 theaters it's currently in (that's a little over one per state!), but I can see this getting some word-of-mouth exposure when it inevitably hits Netflix streaming in a few months.


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