Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No One Lives

Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura has an impressive resume. Although I’m not overly familiar with the body of work that began his journey (outings such as Versus), I – like many others – stumbled upon this unique talent after being exposed to the genuine horrors of The Midnight Meat Train. With an arsenal of very Kitamura techniques at his disposal (stylish hyper-kinetic camera movement and offbeat angles, among others), we all watched in awe as he faithfully brought Clive Barker's vision blazing into a new millennium. An adaptation now legendary for not getting the treatment it deserved – one wonders whether the overall experience had shattered Ryûhei in some capacity. Would he still want to pursue such outlandish monsters in the aftermath? Or would he perhaps try to find a safer path to success? Thankfully the former was chosen, and with No One Lives our director has selected a script from first time writer David Cohen that again raises the bar and gives us a lofty and unique perspective of the genre.

The journey begins as many others: in true slasher fashion, a young woman is stalked through suburban forest by an unknown assailant using sophisticated equipment. Before being apprehended, she leaves a cryptic message … bread crumbs for those in authority who may be looking for her. Scene two – and we have more familiar territory: a seemingly normal couple are negotiating the highways with some serious luggage in tow. The unnamed pair have made a decision to ‘relocate’ and begin a new existence. Although their motives are not clear, it appears our charismatic male is certainly the one at the controls. When they stop off at an out-of-the-way motel to recharge, we are then treated to some obscure dialogue. Some revelations are at hand, however – and through cobbled together news stories we ascertain the missing young woman is the offspring of society’s elite. After finding her breadcrumbs intact, the call goes out to secure her freedom and life.

Switching gears, we're then introduced to a gang of modern thieves in the midst of a large scale mansion heist. Quicker than expected, it’s ascertained pilfering and burglary are just some of the crimes this cabal entertains when the vacationing family unexpectedly show up. In the aftermath, the two factions cross paths in a small diner setting off a chain of interlocking events revealing a major and unpredictable twist … a happening that simply cannot be disclosed here. And although the couple find themselves the target of these outlaws, a killer emerges that will dwarf them all leading to a cat and mouse showdown in the thug’s lair where anybody is potential prey.

Without revealing the twist, I will say the rest of the film follows a steady formula of imaginative kill sequences. Holed in like rats, the criminal gang have finally met their match. Giddy with the twist – and by now relishing the outing – I was somewhat disappointed when various flaws began to appear … chief among them character's breaking the cardinal rule of an intelligent horror film: acting stupid. With a killer having already displayed near invincible prowess, that does not stop the injured and maimed trying to escape in the most foolhardy way possible – simply walking out the front door. It’s here, unfortunately, that the sophistication slips. Thankfully the second half is salvaged by key moments of flashback detailing our heroine’s plight – sequences giving rise to philosophic undertones asking pertinent questions concerning evil and its motivations.

I know all this sounds outwardly confusing – like a mash-up of very different genres barely related to each other – but with all plot points revolving around the twist, what looks messy on paper actually comes out sharp. Altogether, Ryûhei Kitamura has delivered a very unique and dark experience: an amalgamation of two disparate plot lines shoved together with enough force the generated heat melds the elements. Recommended.