September 16, 2012



As movie bloodbaths go, NO ONE LIVES is almost–but not quite–clever enough to be worth seeing.

We start with a backwoods family of petty outlaws, headed by father Hoag (Lee Tergesen) and including his wife, brother, two adult children and their significant others.  Their game is to rob tourists and brutally beat them until the appropriate PIN numbers and passwords are disclosed.  After an abortive attempt to rob the house of a family that’s supposed to be vacationing, son Flynn (Derek Magyar) goes after a BMW-driving couple.  To their shock, the bandits discovers that the unnamed driver of the car (Luke Evans) and his girlfriend are the kidnappers of heiress Emma (Adelaide Clements) whose abduction has been all over the media.  Dreams of a ransom and/or reward dancing in their heads, they take possession of the girl.  But–oops!–it turns out that the driver isn’t just a kidnapper, he’s a sociopathic maniac who’ll enjoy nothing better than gorily disposing of the family one by one.  He’s also supremely skilled in hunting and murdering his prey–sort of a combination Rambo and Hannibal Lecter.

Because everyone in the story, with the exception of Emma, is established to be a worthless human being, we’re free to enjoy the many killings that follow as black comedy–a stance helped by the fact that Emma, who knows just how crazy and accomplished her abductor is, just sits back and watches with the deadest of pans as they all start slaughtering each other, waiting for her moment to flee.   Director Rhuhei Kitamura (his previous work includes the picturesquely titled Midnight Meat Train) and screenwriter David Cohen have come up with a few memorable bursts of violence, including one where the Driver uses the body of a victim much as one might use the corpse of a Tauntaun on the ice planet Hoth, and a flashback in which he finds a novel way to convince Emma that she may not want to escape as much as she professes to.

Unfortunately, neither Kitamura nor Cohen had the interest (or ability) to capitalize on the utter lack of morality the tale provides, and before long things bog down in murder for the sake of murder at the level of a slasher movie. The dialogue is mostly woeful, and once you get past Evans, Clements and Tergesen, the acting is pretty much amateur hour.  Kitamura isn’t able to disguise the low-budget production values or give any style to the proceedings, and the movie ends up feeling padded at a mere 86 minutes.  What’s worse, it deprives us of the Emma vs. kidnapper confrontation we’ve been waiting for all along.

No One Lives (the title isn’t strictly accurate, by the way) is distinctive enough to have found its way into Midnight Madness at TIFF, but probably not to achieve full-fledged cult status, let alone mainstream appeal.  With a modicum of extra talent and ambition, though, it could have moved into another bloodsoaked league.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."