Most horror movies do not rely on subtlety in their titles, usually employing such descriptive monikers as “massacre,” “slaughter,” “terror” or “blood.” Director Ryuhei Kitamura’s latest film does not use any of those words, but the title is just as ominous: “No One Lives.”
The viewer, then, can assume that most of the cast members will not make it. The only mystery is who will be eliminated, in what order, and how.
The movie opens with a terrified young woman trying to flee something or someone in the woods but gets snared by a trap. She has the presence of mind to carve a message into a tree and it is revealed she is the daughter of a publishing company magnate and apparently has been kidnapped.
Based upon a debut script by David Cohen, “No One Lives,” then sets the tone initially as one of the staples of the horror genre — a young couple, burdened by emotional issues and facing an uncertain future, have to set all that aside upon becoming untangled with some nasty people who want to do them in.
In this case, there is Driver (Luke Evans, who will be featured in the upcoming “Fast & Furious 6″) and Betty (Laura Ramsey), on the road, pulling their worldly possessions in a trailer. Betty is not sure this move is the right thing to do. Driver is guardedly optimistic. Betty is quick to point out Driver’s quirks but seems paralyzed by her love for him.
Meanwhile, a gang of burglars are cleaning out a fancy house when the family that resides there arrives home unexpectedly. Hoag (Lee Tergesen), the leader of the gang, figures he can talk his way of the predicament but Flynn (Derek Magyer), the typical loose cannon of the group, overreacts violently, spoiling the job and not endearing himself with his colleagues.
Predictably, the not-so-happy couple of Driver and Betty happen to stop in for dinner at a restaurant/bar just as the gang members pile in to drown their frustrations in some beers. The chafed Flynn confronts Driver and Betty in a tense scene that goes nowhere, but later, on the road, Flynn attacks the couple, assuming they are rich and this might produce a nice payoff of money and property.
At this point the movie veers off the trajectory of the nice-people-versus-bad-guys plot. An unexpected character shows up, Emma (Adelaide Clemens from “Silent Hill: Revelation” and currently on screen as Catherine in “The Great Gatsby”). Emma has some knowledge about Driver and Betty and tells Hoag and his group that they have made a fatal mistake messing with these two.
So, let the killing begin. The gore level is pretty low for this type of movie although there is one hideous death. Cohen’s script adds a few levels of character development and succeeds in raising ambivalence about Driver. As things progress, Emma passively stands aside with an “I told you so” attitude. She has her own motivations that go beyond basic survival.
“No One Lives” is another in a growing number of horror films that despite a fairly small budget ($2.9 million) nevertheless has good production values. Kitamura is a veteran of 18 movies, including “Versus,” which had its share of zombies.
Per usual, the acting is not as dramatic as it is physical, and the only character that goes beyond the cliche is that of Driver. The rest are pretty much standard for this type of film — fairly thin on development, with just enough to allow the viewers a smidgen of emotional investment in them as they face mortal peril.