MAY 9, 2013
Since slashers are my favorite horror sub-genre, it's no surprise that I've seen more of them than any other specific sub-genre (I know the genre tags will tell you "Supernatural" is the highest, but that's such a much broader spectrum)... which also means I've seen too many that don't try to do anything new. Thus, whenever someone thinks outside the box a bit, I'm always an easy sell, be it a documentary approach (Behind the Mask) or simply existing in the world where all those other slashers exist (Scream). So I was pretty stoked when I realized that No One Lives was not merely a gory revenge movie like the trailers suggested, but something that seemed to be a sort of "What if?" sequel to a slasher movie we never saw.
(To explain means spoilers, so if you haven't heard the specifics of the movie's premise - which are revealed by the end of the first act, I should stress - stop reading!)
As a news report tells us, some time ago, 14 teens were killed during a graduation party by an unknown murderer, with one girl's body missing/presumed dead - i.e. the plot of any number of slasher movies that ended with the survivor seemingly about to be done in by the not-dead killer. But what if the guy didn't want to kill her? What if he wanted to keep her as his own, imparting his slasher wisdom on her (it's a good theory for whatever the hell Jason was doing with the Amanda Righetti character in the Friday the 13th remake)? That's pretty much the scenario of No One Lives; our murderer is on the run with both his would-be victim (locked in his mini Uhaul) and his actual girlfriend, and along the way they run afoul of a typical band of assholes you'd find in a rape-revenge movie (or a less mutant-tastic Texas Chainsaw ripoff). The killer (named Driver and played by Luke Evans) loses his prize to these folks, and spends the rest of the movie wiping them out (as per the title!) in order to get her back.
Normally I don't like these "no one to root for" movies, but the premise was so wacky I was kind of in love with it, especially when it's revealed that the kidnap victim (Adelaide Clemens; the Michelle Williams lookalike from Silent Hill 3D) is no saint herself. At first she seems somewhat concerned for the gang of thugs, but within minutes she seems content to let Driver wipe them all out and then worry about him later (after all, it's clear HE means her no real harm), and flashbacks reveal he's taught her how to fight. So you have this bizarre three way fight where everyone's kind of a dick, allowing for some unusual suspense - it's not a question of "Who should I root for?" it's more "By whose hand will it be most satisfying to see this person die?" It's only like 80 minutes long and the movie doesn't waste a lot of time getting to the point where Driver and his girls are run off the road by one of the thugs, so there's not a lot of time to question the morality of anything you're seeing provided you're on board with the film's inherent mean-spirited/gonzo spirit in the first place.
It's also sufficiently gory, with many creative kills - I particularly liked the crucifixion by shower curtain and clipboard decapitation. Someone complained that too many kills were off-screen, but being that this was probably NOT a big budget production, I was satisfied with how many we DID see, especially since they were largely practical FX. You hear these stories about how the filmmakers "didn't have time" to spray a little blood on the wall or something - well these folks found a way to have their handsome star completely covered in blood from head to foot for a few shots, so it's almost like they, I dunno, planned in the time to do things right? Crazy idea, but I swear it works! Lot of stunt work too, which is fun to see - this is, for the most part, nowhere near as visually stylized as director Ryûhei Kitamura's other films (basically just a couple of impressive, standalone shots) but he more or less makes up for it with the inventive stunt work, like when a guy is yanked from a porch by an arrow on a wire, which triggers a shotgun blast along the way. There's also a hilarious, out of nowhere and rather brutal catfight in which the two ladies (the girl from Howling Reborn and America Olivo, who was actually IN the Friday remake I mentioned earlier) toss each other into walls and through glass coffee tables without hesitation.
Now, I'm not going to suggest this is some classic - it's a WWE movie after all, so you get some bad acting from a wrestler (though they have definitely made the right call to cast actual actors in the leads of their last few movies and put their guys in supporting, thankless roles) and a LOT of meatheaded dialogue. I laughed, but if I hear anything stupider than "If I wanted to hear from an asshole, I'd rip you a new one!" this year I might have to quit moviegoing, and there are an alarming number of murders that no one seems to notice, as well - a family is killed in the first few minutes and the cops never seem to notice despite everything seemingly taking place in a 10 mile radius. And Driver seems to have no problem using his hands, but didn't he have to break his own thumb to get out of the cuffs at the end of act 1? In short, it's best not to think about any of it too much and just have fun.
In fact I'd liken it favorably to See No Evil, which I think was the first WWE production and their only other entry in the slasher genre (The Call sort of fits, but it's more of a thriller and as I said in my review, it's the slasher stuff that kind of ruins it). Like that film, No One Lives is definitely aiming at the part of your brain that tends to enjoy really terrible people being murdered by other really terrible people (Silent Night, Deadly Night is of course the granddaddy of such fare), and quite frankly you don't get to see enough of that sort of thing in a movie theater. Sure, the place was practically empty (of the 5 other people in the theater for this 10pm showing, I knew 3 of them), but if it can actually fill a screening at any point, I'm sure it will be glorious if everyone's in the right mindset for it. It's crass and "awesome", and does the aforementioned movies proud. And it's got a built-in prequel in case they want to franchise the thing, so good on them.
What say you?