Well, at the very least, “No One Lives” actually delivers on its title, however, it also tells you exactly what will happen in an already rote, routine and predictable movie. It’s an R-rated horror flick that — with a few obvious, quick cuts — could easily be PG-13, perhaps indicating no one really knew what they wanted from the start. It’s a movie that takes place mostly over the course of one night, utilizing a small handful of locations, but the low budget would suggest this was a choice of financing, rather than the requirements of the script. It’s a movie that casts “Hey, it’s that guy!” character actor Gary Grubbs in a part even too small and innocuous for him. Really, “No One Lives” isn’t so much awful, but an example of a series of bad decisions that wind up resulting in a bad movie. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
The story, such as it is, finds a good looking, presumably well-off couple carjacked and held captive by a gang of low rent, rural criminals. Well, actually it was the Loose Cannon who did the deed, much to the chagrin of The Leader, while the cliched group of eventual corpses includes The Coward, The Tough Girl and The Practical, Sensitive Girl. But the Loose Cannon has picked on the wrong dude. The unnamed man (played by Luke Evans and credited as Driver, though not as cool as Ryan Gosling) is actually a cold-blooded, psychopathic serial killer. And he wants revenge, and he’ll get it. Remember the title?
Okay, so these kinds of B-movies don’t need elaborate plots, but there is a difference between simple and inept. The biggest stumbling block involves a twist we won’t spoil here (though other reviews have, so be careful) but the problem is that it’s revealed about a third of the way through the movie. It’s the big narrative surprise of the story, but it comes far too early, leaving the remaining hour or so pretty dry and straightforward: Driver will dispense with his (former) captors with some degree of viciousness. It’s not gratuitous and like we said above, with different cuts and camera angles, it probably could’ve squeaked by the MPAA with a more teen-friendly rating, but Driver does get some bloody kills in there. A Jeep engine is put to good use and one of Driver’s shocking entrances is so ridiculously over-the-top and unbelievable, you can’t help but root for it anyway.
But those moments are fleeting, and even then, they seem like little more than decently reheated bits from other, better movies. Ryûhei Kitamura, the director behind cult faves “Midnight Meat Train” and “Versus,” seems more interested in spending time on the various (mostly forgettable) tableaux of death, than ensuring at least a half-decent performance from the cast. Line readings often feel like first takes, and no one seems anchored to any overarching vision of what the tone should be. From wild scenery chewing to the stoic Luke Evans, whose turn is less acting, than a performance piece of wearing the same expression for 80 minutes, he will hopefully make the case for his leading man status with “Fast & Furious 6,” as he’s got “The Crow” and “Dracula” on his plate now. But it’s hard to blame him here, because none of the actors are well served, including Adelaide Clemens (“Parade’s End,” “The Great Gatsby“) who is only given pretty much one note to play as well.
Almost coming off like an academic blueprint of what a serial killer movie should look like, rather than anything with a distinct voice or authorial hand, “No One Lives” shocks by virtue of being completely uninteresting. While the obvious intent here was to create a Jason-style franchise baddie, we’d wager the guy in the mask had more charisma than anyone in this movie, plus he’s got a mythology to go with it. And a name. Here, Driver is just a soulless automaton going through the motions, but with little in the way of flair except for some crusted over one-liners. And by the time he utters the titular line during the climax, the moment isn’t filled with fear, dread or awe — instead you’ll be washed over with relief knowing that the movie is nearly over. [D]