The famous star of the silent screen Marie Dressler uttered the immortal quote “you’re only as good as your last picture”. It’s a saying that’s prevalent in Hollywood – and seemingly that famous town only remembers your last film anyhow. Ryuhei Kitamura directed the iconic Japanese films Versus and Sky High, but to the contemporary film industry he’s just the director of Midnight Meat Train.
For his second English language film we start with a distressed girl running through the forest in vest and underwear who is caught in a trap and hoisted up into the woodland air by her ankles. On the tree by which she hangs she carves in the words “Emma alive”. Switching to our primary characters we discover Driver (Luke Evans) and Betty (Laura Ramsey) driving cross country. Stopping at a nearby motel they switch on the TV to discover the news stations awash with coverage of a missing girl – the aforementioned Emma (Adelaide Clemens) and the manhunt to find her.
We’d be inclined to suggest that Driver and Betty have been having a few issues in their relationship as they speak openly of another woman as Tamara repeatedly questions “why?”. Switching to another scenario we’re introduced to a gang of robbers lead by the tempestuous Flynn (Derek Magyar) who are disturbed midway through the robbery of an opulent country house. Without thought, Flynn shoots and kills the approaching owners with a stream of bullets enraging his cohorts with his irresponsible behaviour.
With these three situations established it’s not long before they begin to collide and they do so at a local restaurant where Driver and Betty have chosen to eat. Upon leaving the steakhouse the couple are rammed off the road by Flynn and his crew, and we find them chained to a couple of chairs in a dingy outbuilding of a farmhouse. Flynn’s gang of crooks decide to search Driver’s car, and on doing so sense something very wrong in the rear of the trailer the car is towing – it’s the kidnapped girl from the news, Emma.
The crux of No One Lives is undoubtedly the success of the twist. Since the reveal comes after only twenty minutes, the pressure is on to somehow make the ensuing hour a worthwhile and original piece of moviemaking. With a concept of bad guy versus bad guys, it’s initially a little bewildering who to root for. Right on cue though we find the kidnap victim Emma has a gargantuan set of balls and is intent on playing both sides off against each other in a race for survival. Obviously for a person who has faced death by serial killer for the last few days this confident behaviour isn’t exactly expected – but hey, since when did Ryuhei Kitamura do plausibility.
Filled with cheesy dialogue like “If I wanted to hear from an asshole, I’d rip you a new one!” and the occasional actor summoned from the chipboard school of the performing arts it’s primed for a critical drubbing. Indeed with the New York Post calling ‘unspeakably dull’ and even the genre press like Dread Central labelling it ‘a mess’ it has certainly received its fair share of hate. I on the other hand find it very hard to dislike. Its ballsy, its gore-soaked, its innovative and it’s also a whacked-out rollercoaster of sick entertainment.
7 out of 10