It’s possible to enjoy some horror films despite their flaws. And they don’t come much more flawed than Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura’s gory psycho thriller NO ONE LIVES. A Jack of all trades, Kitamura varies his output between the Japanese and American markets, and between animation and live action. His last English language offering was 2008’s THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, based on Clive Barker’s short story. Stylish and brutal, if somewhat lacking in substance, it was a gruelling and gruesome genre outing that highlighted an unexpected aptitude for scares on the part of former footballer Vinnie Jones. Jones is missing this time around, but much the same commendations and criticisms can be levelled at NO ONE LIVES. It’s not going to win any awards for subtlety (or anything else, for that matter), but it’s a treat for fans of bloody old-school horror.
After an attempted robbery goes wrong and a gang of criminals are forced to flee the scene of their latest job, one of their number decides to recoup their loses by kidnapping what appears to be a wealthy couple who are travelling across country. But the couple aren’t what they seem, and a search of their car uncovers a young woman, Emma (Adelaide Clemens), who was kidnapped several months ago...
NO ONE LIVES is a study in duality. It doesn’t mean to be (it’s not nearly smart enough to engage with such a weighty esoteric concept), but it’s a classic case of style vs. ineptitude. We’ll start with what’s wrong with it, which can be boiled down to two words; the script. It’s written by newcomer David Cohen, and it’s terrible. For one thing, the story makes no sense. I’m guessing the woman in whose company we first meet ‘Driver’ (Luke Evans) is another of his captives, but it’s never made explicit. Do we attribute the fact that she appears to be in love with him to Stockholm syndrome? Why does she commit suicide? What is Driver attempting to achieve by kidnapping these girls? Why is Emma trussed up in his trunk? Are Driver’s heightened abilities the result of training and/or a natural aptitude for sadistic murder, or is he some kind of supernatural being? What’s his agenda? This frustrating sense of inexactitude is made even more unpalatable by the dialogue, which is downright moronic, and the overload of tired genre clichés. With the exception of Emma, who makes for an agreeably feisty and capable heroine, we don’t have anyone to root for, as the cast is almost exclusively made up of unpleasant lowlifes who deserve the grisly fates they do next to nothing to avoid.
The secret to enjoying NO ONE LIVES is taking the same approach as Kitamura – completely ignore the crappy script and nonsensical plot and wallow in the gore. If you require even a hint of substance or sophistication to your horror you should probably look elsewhere, but if you’re willing to settle for inventive death scenes and a morbid atmosphere, NO ONE LIVES offers ninety minutes of mindless fun. Both the director and the two leads are better than the material, and conspire, along with the superior production values and excellent practical effects, to elevate the film from the bargain basement doldrums in which it rightfully belongs. Kitamura delivers his usual visceral visual style, and Clemens in particular transcends her underwritten part, to deliver a memorably plucky performance. The rest of the cast are simply victims in waiting, but at least Kitamura ensures they get a decent send-off, with one impressive (and wince-inducing) death scene following another.
By all rights NO ONE LIVES should have disappeared without a trace. Its plot generates more questions than answers, its dialogue is laughably bad, its characters are dime-a-dozen scumbags, and its principle bad guy spends so much time trying to look and sound cool he (almost) forgets to be menacing. But thanks to a talented director with what is clearly an abiding affection for over-the-top ultraviolence, all is not lost. The roles don’t exactly test their range, but the leads acquit themselves well, and Kitamura makes sure everything looks fantastic, even if it’s as stale and hackneyed as horror cinema gets. Take your brain off the hook before watching and you might just enjoy.