For almost three straight decades and counting, no subgenre in the horror lexicon has been as abundantly tread and unashamedly repetitive as the slasher film. Through a paint-by-numbers formula, regressively thin storytelling framing and character cannibalization, the amount of unique takes available to the slasher subgenre is dwindling or, worse yet, becoming irrelevant to modern audiences with each passing year. And yet, in the off-chance that a unique possibility is presented to challenge the understanding of the subgenre for a whole new generation, much like Wes Craven did with Scream or Adam Green did with Hatchet, the producers of said films should take extra care into their film as to make sure that the idea is presented in an engaging, cleverly revealed package. But sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, instead, they produce No One Lives, the newest release from Anchor Bay Films and WWE Productions, who released the better-than-expected The Call earlier this year to genre appreciation and superb returns.
Psychologically speaking, there are few things that draw the ire of an audience, or in this case a film critic, than the waste of potential. The glimmer of a film that’s vastly superior than the one projected to the audience is more damning to any film than a bland, mediocre product, and without any social relevance, there’s no real reason for an alternate examination. But compound the waste of potential with the disguising of misogyny, anti-intellectualism and misanthropy as brainless entertainment, and then remove the entertainment value and replace it with shoddy storytelling and abhorrent dialogue, and you have a film specifically tailored for the lowest-common-denominator of genre fans.
No One Lives is a film just like that; it takes the unique concept of a Rambo–Hannibal hybrid and pit against in-over-their-head criminals and completely wrings it dry of any subtext to create unfocused, sloppy fan service. With a complicated, nonsensical backstory that’s introduced halfway through the film, the context of the film’s narrative is lost almost immediately, attempting to set up a bait-and-switch that would have been interesting, had the victim-turned-villain acted on any of the skills he’s hyped to have. Instead, we’re treated to a film where the main threat kills less than half of the total body count in the film, and pulls tricks such as leaving a bag of entrails on a front porch like a child with a burning bag of feces on Halloween night.
The potential that’s wasted doesn’t lie solely in the narrative storytelling, as the failures of the film stretch both behind and in front of the camera as well. Instead of providing a fixed perspective throughout the story, or including relevant or significant imagery for which an audience can single out mentally in remembrance of the film, cinematographer Daniel Pearl shoots the film as if he was given an outdated digital camera, leftover lighting gels from a low-rent giallo knock-off and a poorly-washed can of beans as a filter. In terms of the film’s visual presentation, comparisons to Caligula, The Room and Halloween II can be made with the straightest of faces, as problems with focus, blown-up shots and iffy daylight compensation are aplenty.
Even moreso disappointing is that No One Lives hails from Ryuhei Kitamura, whose impressive cult credentials include the gonzo genre-free-for-all Versus and the eerie and underrated Clive Barker adaptation The Midnight Meat Train. As Kitamura is familiar with insane narrative storytelling as well as gritty, morbid impulse filmmaking, the fact that the film cannot find a balance between the two, and even glorifies the failures of each, is shameful at best. And the script from first feature scribe David Cohen must be heard to be believed – its dialogue is so atrocious that to rewrite it would only propagate interest in this film. No One Lives is peppered with so many loose ends, misguided plot devices and inconsequential actions that one wonders if the lapses in continuity are completely intentional, but that line of thinking would mean the film was an act of financial sabotage from development to execution. Also, without delving too far into spoiler territory: perhaps Cohen may want to rethink the title of the film, if the personal justification of the film’s villain conflicts with the actual culmination of his actions.
However, don’t let the mistakes of the filmmakers take anything away from the mistakes of the cast! Most actors, here, are so disengaged and indifferent to the story around them that they almost seem glad they’re being killed off, as it’s an excuse to no longer participate. At the beginning, Luke Evans seems uninterested, essentially providing unenthused line readings before delving into an incredibly hammy performance in the second-half. In a better film, Evans’ take on an eccentric, by-the-book killer would be the highlight, and to an extent, it still is in No One Lives. However, instead of fulfilling a promising attack plan, including blowing up cars, firing propelled arrows and rigging self-firing shotgun traps, Evans takes a silent backseat for most of the film, only opening his mouth for half-baked and poorly conceived rhetoric or an equally unlikeable one-liner. Adelaide Clemens also tries her best to do something different with the obviously disappointing material, yet appears too overwhelmed by the rest of the cast and crew that’s vowed to make a terrible film. The additional players in No One Lives are disjointed and unconvincing, spearheaded by the oft-pleasing Lee Tergesen in rare yet enormous character misstep and rounded out by obligatory WWE contribution Brodus Clay, who isn’t given enough material to provide a truly despicable performance, to his credit.
As for a dissection into the film’s hidden messages and psychological processes, there is barely any criticism worth giving. In a film with explicit nudity; unbelievable female wrestling scenes; borderline rapist male characters; and a lack of empowerment and intelligence throughout its female characterizations, it would be too easy to call No One Lives misogynistic. It is more likely the result of flat out conceptual underdevelopment and testosterone-driven delusion. Furthermore, information and exposition are given in such blatant spoon-feeding ways that the narrative comes across as disrespectful to genre fans – unless the film is assuming that none of us are familiar with the workings of reality, which is even more disrespectful to…well…just people in general. Lastly, the willingness to kill kind-hearted characters without the emotional investment or potential karmic consequence being presented at several points, and lacking the artistic initiative to make the moments effective, is evident of a misanthropic, possibly self-degrading undertone lurking beneath the film’s paper-thin surface.
So how does one summarize a review filled with such disdain and vitriol for ignored potential, terrible filmmaking and valueless storytelling? Rather simply: don’t see No One Lives. Not for fun, because you won’t have any. Not ironically, because the joke will be on you. And especially not for a good slasher film, for there is not one to be found.
– By Ken W. Hanley