September 22, 2014
No One Lives: old school horror is back
For the Herald
Filmmaker Kitamura honours slashers with massive dose of gore and gruesome humourBefore No One Lives, I’d only seen Japanese filmmaker Ryûhei Kitamura’s US debut film The Midnight Meat Train, an adaptation of a Clive Barker’s short story about a New York photographer who hunts down an unusual serial killer: a true butcher with a taste for crashing, disemboweling and slicing commuters on the last train home.
Extremely violent and pretty dynamic, with eye-catching cinematography and some startling visuals, Kitamura’s outing delivers way more than what you’d expect from your average slasher-type gore fest as it increasingly crosses the good- taste line to superb effect. Granted, the screenplay is nothing short of thin, with its stereotypical characters, little interesting sub plots, and a predictable dramatic arc. Nonetheless, The Midnight Meat Train never ceases to be heavily ominous and disturbing — yet also viscerally amusing, at least for those with a strong stomach.
So when I learned about Kitamura’s next film No One Lives, locally released on Thursday, I hoped for the best. Now that I’ve seen it a couple of times, I feel it’s one of the best slashers/thrillers of these latest years (albeit not as solid as Adam Wingard’s You’re Next).
As could be expected, it maintains some of the qualities of The Midnight Meat Train, especially its dynamic tempo and abundance of gore, but also it sometimes sloppy narrative and plot holes. However, this time the emphasis is not so much on the ominous, but on the mayhem. For absolute excess rules here.
The plot concerns a couple (Luke Evans and Laura Ramsey) driving accross the country as they head to their new home after a recent breakup over infidelity. But she’s forgiven him, so this is their chance to start over from scratch. To their disgrace, they stop at a diner where they meet a gang of criminals who, after having failed at robbing a wealthy family (whom they killed anyway) is in urgent need of cash.
So it makes sense that they almost immediately kidnap, and then torture, the fine-looking couple. And just when they think their money problems were over, it’s precisely when they actually start. Big time. It so happens that their prisoners are not who they appear to be, not in the slightest. Now it’s clear they shouldn’t have messed with them in the first place. Better said, with him, who has no name and is referred to as Driver.
What follows is a string of vicious (and creative) deaths depicted in full graphic splendour, ranging from someone stabbed with a sickle, a woman killing herself with the help of a knife, to a man thrown into a meat grinder, or someone’s face crushed against an engine fan in a car. Add a throat slashed by a clip board and a head blown off. And there’s more.
So far, it sounds like standard, generic material, which actually it is. And yet there’s more to it. Some healthy novelties include a third story that took place in the past and puts everything under a new perspective — and we’re talking about a turn of the screw after the sudden twist that shows that looks can be deceiving. There’s also a perfectly organized sequence of minor and major episodes to make the deaths happen, and the fact that it is purposely contrived pushes the film away from the demands of realism, at the same time it takes place in a realistic territory. For No One Lives doesn’t attempt to be a classical, logically driven cat and mouse game movie. It doesn’t understimate its viewers when it asks them to believe the unbelievable. Just like the deaths in the Final Destination franchise are not meant to be credible, but enjoyed for their campy nature.
Moreover, Driver is one scary psychopath, as sturdily played by Luke Evans. Despite his unnecessary solemnity to say many of his lines, he sounds gripping in a non naturalistic manner (and that’s what makes him so sinister). It’s as if you combine legendary serial killers such as Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Candyman, all of them of a supernatural origin and with supernatural attributes, with someone like Jigsaw, a human being with a wicked brain, infinite resources and a lust for revenge. And a killing machine like The Terminator. All kinds of evil into one. This way, you can never know what to expect, and neither can the characters. The frontiers have to be re delimitated, time and again, as the body count rises.
On the minus side, the performances are downright mediocre, except for those of Luke Evans and Adeliade Clemmens as Emma, an heiress to a fortune who pops out in the story for reasons not to be revealed in order to avoid spoiling the surprise. And it wouldn’t have hurt to have written better dialogue. I don’t mean original dialogue, but not this trite either.
Amid so many uninspired, gutless horror movies that recycle old formulas with no imagination, No One Lives proudly stands out as a ferocious homage to slashers, with a massive dose of gore, and not without a gruesome sense of humour.
No one lives (US, 2012). Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura. Written by David Cohen. Cinematographer: Daniel Pearl. Editor: Toby Yates. Musical Score: Jerome Dillon. Cast: Luke Evans, Adelaide Clemens. Lee Tergesen, Derek Magyar. Producer: Elton Grand, David Cohen. Running time: 86 minutes.