No One Lives (2012) is the second English-language excursion from Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura (following 2008’s The Midnight Meat Train). Starring British actor Luke Evans, Kitamura’s latest is a gory cat-and-mouse slasher that still ultimately feels like a hollow shell of grotesque action sequences and deadpan humour. When a gang of ruthless highway thieves kidnap a wealthy couple travelling across country, they could never have imagined the Pandora’s box of malevolence about to open. Whilst the couple (including Evans) are held captive in a disused petrol station the rest of the gang plunder their car.
Amongst the meagre collection of clothes and souvenirs they’re shocked to discover a young girl hidden in the trunk. Her surprise discovery alerts them to the fact that their captive may not be the simple middle class tourist they initially thought he was; instead a self proclaimed ‘total psychopath’ who’ll stop at nothing in order to reap revenge for the gang’s wrongdoings. Ostensibly a monster movie masquerading as a slasher film with no discernibly honourable characters, No One Lives plays out like a dark and gritty orgy of violence and incongruous set-ups with little to no motive behind its ludicrous tale.
The film’s anti-hero, Evans’ ‘Driver’, is a man who – unlike most serial killers – doesn’t work in numbers but works “in singularities.” When asked why he executes the vehemently violent acts he performs, he simply answers, “It keeps me fit.” There’s no refuting the inventiveness behind the acts of justice Evans’ man-with-no-name dishes out to those who have wronged him. However, the lack of any moral compass dictating these actions culminates in a Stockholm syndrome romance that feels like a juvenile up-yours to conventional storytelling. Sadly, this attempt to appear diverse and substitute cohesive narrative with an abundance of blood and torture results in a cavalcade of cheap thrills and little else.
As emotionally numb as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), yet with the ferocity cranked up to eleven, No One Lives’ ballsy approach would certainly make for an entertaining example of cult filmmaking if only there had been some form of emotional investment in any of the character’s and their actions. The kidnapped girl who Evans keeps in his trunk gives no coherent reason for her decision to remain so submissive and as such we have a film that appears to be broaching the psychological phenomenon of why we’re attracted to the ones who hurt us, yet despite its lazy platitudes to plot development leaves the actions which unfolds as utterly incomprehensible.
There’s no denying that this story of blood-stained bondage and cable tied affections has its moments of genuine enjoyment (a scene which sees Evans smuggle himself into the gang’s hideout via the hollowed corpse of one of their henchmen is a particular delight). Unfortunately, Kitamura’s No One Lives remains a shallow and forgettable excursion into the psyche of the criminal mind that dilutes its visceral shocks and violence through an unchallenging plot.