No One Lives, the most recent film from director Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Versus) is a passable horror movie, a decent twisty-crime story, a wonderful special effects display and a less-than-stellar script drag all at the same time. If that seems kind of disjointed, it is. The film is too. The extremes between good acting and bad are pretty noticeable (sometimes glaringly so – mostly because of clunking lines) and so the pacing and story suffer. That isn’t any individual actor’s fault, mind you, as the script often relies on completely out-of-place phrasing or calls for emotion that just don’t click. This drags the pacing through the muck along with a kind of scattershot assemblage of what should have been a nifty plot setup.
The film opens with a girl running through the woods, girl being captured (or re-captured I guess) and girl carving her name in a tree in a desperate attempt to let people know she is still alive. The timeline of all of this is confusing as we go from there to news footage plot shuffling and we then settle into the primary story focusing on a couple who run afoul of a group of thieves just off a botched burglary resulting in the deaths of the family they were robbing (again, with the disjointed issue). This gives us turning point number one as we are to see this seemingly normal (but tense) couple as the potential next victims of this bunch of inept crooks. At a very early point however, something seems a bit off with our primary couple, in particular the male of the two of them (Luke Evans) and you’re never really given over to them as the ‘innocent’ victims.
A goofily handled bar scuffle ensues and the thieves take Evans’ car which just happens to have a secret compartment with a girl hidden inside (turning point number two). Adelaide Clemens is the girl in the trunk and plays like a strange mix of Patricia Arquette in True Romance and Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies. Just dingy enough to not seem formidable but not a complete wallflower either. The frustrating thing is, they do next to nothing with her character. Beyond just riling up the crooks and spouting strange, fuzzy-headed lines at random, she isn’t given a lot to do. Which is a shame because Evans’ now more interesting character could’ve used a stronger female character to work off of. Hell, the whole movie could’ve used that as most of the women in the film are more or less useless and that is real shame because this film would have been greatly served by some hard charging, no BS estrogenic strength.
Because on the other side of the docket, Evans gets to play this endlessly creative alpha-male killer to the teeth through the entire second half of the thing but really seems like he has no match when it comes down to it. The hero is only as interesting as his villain and vice versa and this group of nitwits don’t provide much of a challenge at all. Really, this aspect of the story is the driving force behind my frustration with it as a whole. There are these great pieces to work with (cold killer, bumbling but still lethal crime gang, mysterious victim, switcheroos by the twos and threes) along with some very solid camera work at times but it just doesn’t come together in a cohesive and dependable way.
What does, however, are the practical effects. The special effects team do some seriously commendable work on No One Lives in a variety of ways. From believable scarring to full gore-gross-out sequences (one very memorable one for sure) to action-based blood work to a myriad of others, the effects team really does a solid solid job and deserve great praise.
I just wish to god the rest of the film could’ve lived up to that immensely impressive work because as it stands, the film is lopsided and frustrating. However, if you’re looking for a distracting 1.5 hour trip with the only highlight being what I’ve just described about the effects, then give No One Lives a go.