Saturday, February 2, 2013

'No One Lives' (2012) directed by Ryuhei Kitamura

'No One Lives' is a film where a maniac kills a fat guy then cuts open the body and hides inside it, gruesomely emerging in a bloody rebirthing scene.  It's a sick little film mainly concerned with the process of disassembling its cast, who are among other things impaled, shot, strangled, stabbed, bashed, beheaded, mangled, pierced and processed into a chunky paste.  If nothing else, 'No One Lives' can be admired for the gusto with which it goes about this process of dismemberment.

The setup for this chaos is fairly straightforward.  We meet a gang of criminals, ranging in likeability from utterly detestable to merely evil.  They all live in a big house together and seem to wear shirts with the logo of their crime gang on the back.  It's like a 5 year old's idea of what a criminal gang is, but then this is not a film overly concerned with subtlety.  Soon, one of the particularly evil criminals runs a couple of tourists off the road and steals their car.  But these are no ordinary tourists.  

Driver - Luke Evans
The driver, named only as 'Driver' (Luke Evans) is an unbelievably competent and sadistic killer.  He's the Batman of murdering people in ridiculous ways.  As soon as Driver starts his campaign of terror, people start blankly intoning lines like "It doesn't matter what you do, he's going to kill you all".  It's slightly interesting in a sick way, because the victims are vicious criminals we find ourselves rooting for the 'monster'. This is a bit disturbing because Driver is an antihero in the loosest sense.  While he has no internal conflict his motivations are extremely muddled and there's a slightly annoying self-awareness to him that totally undercuts any attempt to take him seriously.  As far as psychopaths go, he's got much more in common with Wile E Coyote than he does with Hannibal Lecter.  

"Nobody kills Ethan!"
The rest of the cast are to various degrees, different varieties of meat for him to cut through.  Aside from one noble exception in Derek Magyar, these are the sorriest group of actors I've seen assembled in a very long time.  The acting is generally at about the level of a well-produced porn film.  This isn't helped by one of the worst scripts I've ever seen.  Judging by the dialogue I assume the writer, David Lawrence Cohen was being paid by the use of the word "fuck".  "Fuck! Shut the fucking door you fuck!" says one character, "Fuck YOU!" says another in reply.  It's pretty clunky stuff and results in ridiculous moments when a character sees a bloody knife sticking out of a wall and says inquisitively "something's wrong here".  You think?!

You also get bizarre sequences like the astonishingly violent fight between two women at the mid way point.  Everybody is hiding in terror from the killer when things flare up between two members of the criminal gang.  For the next few minutes the killer is forgotten as the women roll around together, bodyslamming each other through glass coffee tables and throwing each other right across the room.  Even the other characters in the scene look slightly confused by what's happening.  It feels a bit like some slimy producer turned up on set and started demanding that there be a cat fight in the movie.  

A suspiciously well lit junk yard.  Guess someone was throwing away spotlights and dry ice machines.
Damn near everything about the film other than the gory murders is half-assed.  It's clearly got a small budget, but this doesn't mean that it has to look quite this cheap.  It's shot digitally, and considering nearly all of the film is set at night this results in huge, washed out black areas of the screen, something exacerbated bystrangely expressionistic lighting.  The film is lit like a rock concert or a stage musical.  Characters appear backlit by spotlights surrounded by mysterious plumes of dry ice.  If they went fullbore with this unnatural atmosphere it might just about work, but they don't and it doesn't.

I try to keep an open mind whenever I watch a film, pre-judging stuff before you've seen a frame can poison enjoyment of a perfectly good film.  Having said that, I felt a little tingle of dread when the first thing on screen informed me that the film was a World Wrestling Entertainment production.  As far as I'm concerned there's no real reason that the WWE shouldn't be able entertaining enough action film, so I tried to forget about it.  But when you have characters bodyslamming each other through tables and suplexing people into cars it's difficult not to become a little suspicious that you're watching pro-wrestling in disguise.  

If you like seeing women getting cut up then boy is this the film for you.
What's a little more disturbing are the frequent links 'No One Lives' makes between sex and death.  Perhaps this kind of thing goes with the exploitation genre but even so when we're looking at a strangled, semi crucified woman tied up in a bathroom it feels a bit weird that her gigantic blood stained breasts are front and centre in the frame.  On a slightly subtler, but arguably weirder note is the central relationship between the Driver and his captive.  It's some kind of weird Stockholm Syndrome style attraction that doesn't make any sense whatsoever.  The film seems to want to set up some kind of commentary on the way victims of abuse become dependant on their abuser, but it's garbled to the point of incomprehensibility.

I've got to admit that at least on some weird trashy level 'No One Lives' occasionally works.  When there's some bonkers murder scene going on, or when the killer is running around naked and smeared with blood it approaches entertaining purely through B-movie audacity. But make no mistake it's an absolutely atrocious film on almost every level.  I've seen quite a few films directed by Kitamura over the years and found 'Midnight Meat Train' surprisingly worthwhile.  Unfortunately 'No One Lives' is boring, badly acted bargain bin trash punctuated by the odd moment of sadistic relish.  


'No One Lives' is apparently in theatres on April 18th.  I suspect it's more likely to end up going straight to DVD.

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