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No One Lives
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by Jay Seaver

"Ryuhei Kitamura's attempts to conquer America continue to fall short."
3 stars

"No One Lives" is a nasty piece of work, the sort of "thriller" that mostly seems to be designed to string an increasingly grotesque set of violent deaths together while taking a perverse sort of pride in how there's nothing really close to a conventional hero for the audience to cheer for. It should just be easily dismissed junk, but somehow cult favorite director Ryuhei Kitamura makes all the pieces that don't really make any sense together into a movie that holds the audience's attention.

At the top level, the three basic pieces have potential: First, there's Emma Ward (Adelaide Clemens), a girl attempting to escape her kidnappers as the movie opens. After that, we meet a couple (Luke Evans & Laura Ramsey) moving cross-country stopping at the Highwayman Motel after a long day of driving. Finally, there's Hoag (Lee Tergesen) and his bad of robbers, which include his girlfriend Tamara (America Olivo), the hulking Ethan (Brodus Clay), hot-headed Flynn (Derek Magyar), and Denny (Beau Knapp), who's really only there because he's dating Hoag's daughter Amber (Lindsey Shaw). After a job goes wrong, Flynn decides to make up the shortfall by going after the guy just passing through - which turns out to be a very bad idea.

That's the basic "dangerous people who run afoul of someone who is on a whole different level" set-up, with an interesting wild card thrown in, as it becomes clear that Emma is not the typical helpless heiress she might have been once upon a time. You can do a fair amount with that beyond just assuaging the audience's guilt at enjoying inventive murder because the victims kind of have it coming too; and the script by David Cohen plays with a number of ideas. The thing is, it doesn't exactly commit to any of them. There's an theme running through the movie about which people are capable of being killers under which circumstances, but it doesn't quite connect. That connects to what's going on with Emma's kidnapping, but the way that plays out is disappointing, too.

More than that, though, the movie takes some pretty drastic shortcuts getting from point A to point B and beyond. Sure, once you've posited that the villain is a psychopath (and both the film and the character are quite up-front about that), you can get away with "insane person does insane things because he's insane", but even once you take characters being nuts into account, there's a lot that involves being unbelievably brilliant or capable, and, hey, it's sure convenient that there's this great place to torture someone in a creative manner nearby! There are a couple scenes of just pointless self-destruction that don't make a whole lot of sense, and the willingness to go for the bloody scene actually cuts a scene short before it can really get tense a couple of times. Plus, man, I don't know if the way Luke Evans's character (who, pointlessly, is never called by name) makes his way into one location is even physically possible without assistance.

Even if it's not, it sure as heck makes for a memorable, if disgusting, entrance. It's one of several gross-out moments that the movie absolutely nails, and Kitamura and his crew deserve credit for that - the guys fabricating bits of mutilated human do good work, but Kitamura's the one who finds the right balance between showing off the well-made practical effect and rubbing the audience's nose in it. He and the stunt crew can stage an action scene well, too, and he handles the script's weaknesses as best he can: There are some scenes that have to be given room to breathe even when they don't make sense because they'd make less sense if he just tried to get through them quickly. He does a good job of keeping things moving when the movie would be hurt by lingering.

He does a fair job with a cast that's good enough but doesn't really have a breakout star, Evans manages to look intimidating and mostly back it up; Laura Ramsey plays off him well enough but is kind of forgettable, not quite selling her big scene. There's a nice sort of authority born of experience to Lee Tergesen's Hoag even without him ever listing bona fides, and Derek Magyar plays his flip-side just as well. Beau Knapp, Lindsey Shaw, America Olivo, and Brodus Clay (the nom de ring of wrestler George Murdoch, whose presence explains the "WWE Studios" title card at the beginning) are better than filler. Adelaide Clemens may or may not be quite good; the muted way she plays Emma for much of the movie may be in line with how someone who has been through what this character has would act, but it certainly sticks out like a sore thumb at times.

Which means that despite a few fairly good pieces, the cast doesn't always fit together, just like the rest of the movie. So it's a mess, and not just in the bloody way it's intended to be. In that, it's lucky that Kitamura can keep things going just long enough that things don't fall apart until after the audience has gotten what they've wanted from it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24148&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/12/13 11:58:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sarasota Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2013 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.

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  10-May-2013 (R)
  DVD: 20-Aug-2013

  N/A (18)

  DVD: 20-Aug-2013

Directed by
  Ryuhei Kitamura

Written by
  David Cohen

  Luke Evans
  Adelaide Clemens
  Derek Magyar
  Beau Knapp
  America Olivo
  Lee Tergesen

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