Retro Review: NO ONE LIVES (2012){0}

It’s safe to say we’ve seen the “home invasion” thriller thrown at us from every conceivable angle by this point. The premise is nothing new, of course, as those who remember the original Straw Dogs (1971) can remind you, but over the last several years we’ve seen a whole lot of foreign and/or independent films that involve A) a house, B) some killers, and C) a siege of some unpleasant variety.

Take your pick: Funny Games (either version), Them (aka Ils) and High Tension (aka Switchblade Romance) and Inside, The Purge and The Strangers, The Aggression Scale, the remake of Mother’s Day, the long-awaited You’re Next, and probably a dozen other movies we’ve both seen. So right off the bat it should be clear that the film we’re here to discuss — No One Lives — is nothing close to fresh, original, or particularly novel. But the ravenous horror fans know that originality is sometimes overrated, and that sometimes there’s simply a good time to be found in the presentation.

The simple story of a raving psychopath who terrorizes a cabin full of hateful criminals, No One Lives is completely predictable and obvious if you’re focusing solely on the plot — but if you’re fine with a new coat of paint being splashed all over a concept you know by heart, then it’s safe to say you’ll have some fun with this unpredictably nihilistic little slasher movie. For every stupid line of dialogue or obvious moment, there’s something shocking or nasty offered down the line.

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (best known for the rather solid 2008 rendition of Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train), No One Lives stars a more-than-suitably bad-ass Luke Evans (The Raven) as a calm but ridiculously prolific murderer who decides to pick on a bunch of rotten crooks who are hiding from the law. Tucked deep within the frequent unpleasantness of the premise and the characters is one sympathetic character: a young woman called “Emma” who has somehow managed to avoid being one of the killer’s victims. And she’s not exactly thrilled to be surrounded by nasty thugs.

For all its frequent familiarity and its occasional “clunkers” in the dialogue department, No One Lives does display a bit of color and energy once most of the players have been dispatched and we jump into full-bore cat & mouse mode. The director’s affection for unexpected kills and copious amounts of graphic gore should keep the horror fans happy, even if Mr. Kitamura still seems to like CGI blood splatters more than he probably should. The practical gore effects, on the other hand, are quite excellent, and the film actually comes up with a few odd and interesting ways to dole out the carnage.

Some of the supporting cast is, well, less than exemplary, but in addition to Luke Evans as the supremely no-nonsense maniac, we also get the always interesting Lee Tergesen as a tough-talking crime boss, a cool loose-cannon performance from Derek Magyar, and some fine work from ladies like Laura Ramsey, America Olivo, and Lindsey Shaw. None of the material is brilliant, but these actors know their roles in a siege horror flick like this, and they make the most of it.

A perfectly serviceable slasher flick for horror fans who want something simple but still satisfying, No One Lives comes from WWE Studios, and they seem to be branching out beyond making just “vehicles for wrestlers.” Their last attempt at hardcore horror was the rather woeful See No Evil (2006), and there’s simply no denying that a flick like No One Lives is a solid step in the right direction. For all its obvious stuff and familiar moments, this is sort of a “throwback” slasher/siege movie that takes the sub-genre seriously. That alone makes it a little bit interesting.