When did horror fans become so persnickety? When did they determine that only a certain type of scary movie, made within a specific set of dread central parameters, was worthy of paying their neo-nerd attention to? This seems to happen a lot recently. A deliberate and effective work like the Evil Dead remake is dismissed because it’s not “funny enough” while outings such as Kiss of the Damned are condemned for being too respectful of the Hammer Horror past. Now comes No One Lives, a weird WWE-produced byproduct of the wrestling giant’s desire to broaden their media meaning and there are genre-specific websites crowing about how it’s unbelievable, brazen and too bloody. Right, like celebrated classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing should be dismissed to a similar set of standards. You’d think something this gory would get a bit more modern macabre respect.
Apparently, when you mess with confirmed terror tropes, the dread dork gets his or her limited edition Halloween Shape mask all in a bunch. But then again, one expects such slasher sleight of hand from Japanese maverick Ryuhei Kitamura, the madman behind such sensational splatterfests as Versus and Midnight Meat Train. In this case, working from a clever script from David Cohen, the filmmaker fashions an experience where nothing is what it seems, where the first 25 minutes or so see more twists and turns than in a dozen derivative fright flicks, and the end result is the possibility of an entire new fear franchise with a charismatic killer with a penchant for numbers and nastiness at its core.
You see, when we first meet Driver (Luke Evans), he seems overly concerned about three things: (1) getting out of town, (2) the young girl he has riding along with him, and (3) news reports about a missing heiress. As un-luck would have it, he runs into a ruthless gang of criminals led by Hoag (Lee Tergensen). Apparently, this ragtag group of reprobate — including the untried Denny (Beau Knapp), the brooding brute Ethan (WWE star Brodus Clay) as well as unhinged psycho Flynn (Derek Magyar), along with old lady Tamara (America Olivo) and his daughter Amber (Lindsay Shaw) — rob unfortunate marks along the road and then murder them with cold blooded bravado. Of course, things are different when they meet up with Driver. They don’t know anything about his solitary situation, except for the gloomy gal he has on his arm… and the one he has hidden in his trunk.
It’s no real spoiler to say that No One Lives features a significant switcheroo right up front. After all, once a major character dies and another is done away with arterial spray expedience, it’s not hard to get a handle on where things are going. Yep, the good guy is actually the baddie, with the heretofore desperate villains turning into a viable collection of victim fodder. Under Kitamura’s go for broke approach, bodies become hiding places while heads are shredded with barnyard machine efficiency. With a Greek chorus in the form of the MIA rich girl, we get constantly warnings about what Driver can do. Watching these helpless felons fall over themselves to be his next vivisection prize is part of the film’s undeniable allure.
Gore is its other mainstay, and for those who like their terror painting in buckets of bubbling red, No One Lives delivers. As he proved throughout his career, Kitamura knows how to manipulate grue. The aforementioned farmhouse flesh rendering is a prime example, as is a last act showdown with the most offensive of the gangbangers, Flynn. In fact, Cohen’s script does such a good job of making these creeps unlikeable (and, in turn, the director shows considerable skill with casting and performance) that we can’t wait to see how Driver will dispose of such dolts. Like the vengeance films of the ’70s and ’80s merged with Dexter, No One Lives may be one of the few times when the mindless mass murderer with quantity on his mind ends up the hero.
Of course, a film like this doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. There are aspects of the narrative — Driver’s manipulative mind games with his captives — that don’t hold much logical water. If the heiress really did do all the things she supposedly did while under his control, would she just sit by, inert, as he continued his pursuit. And if he already had another student to struggle (and have sex) with, why does he still need Ms. Morose? Driver’s trailer is carrying an entire arsenal of anti-personnel (and people) devices, and yet after discovering the gal in the trunk, not one of these hardened criminals decides to break in and see what he’s been towing behind him? Instead of addressing these and other glaring plot holes, Kitamura and Cohen just pour on the Kayro. As long as there’s splatter, in their minds, it doesn’t really matter.
And it doesn’t really. We don’t come to a movie like No One Lives hoping for the most rational and realistic treatment of spree killer psychology ever set to celluloid. Instead, we want to see bags of body parts, decapitated heads, and bullets turning brains into mush, and in that regard, the movie manages quite well. Unlike other WWE product which seems content to let its company talent turn things tedious, Brodus Clay’s appearance could be considered a cameo, if that, and by hiring Kitamura, the suits behind the scenes have at least one eye on something other than the basic bottom line. You may not discover its vein draining delights in your local Cineplex, but once it hits the stream, give this goofy gorefest a try. Hopefully, Driver and his death dealing dandy persona will find a home alongside other homicidal heroes like Freddy, Jason, and Michael. For blood soaked brutality alone, he fits right in