Best known for the veritable genre goulash Versus, Ryuhei Kitamura at one point seemed poised to become a formidable cult stylist, or at least a poor man’s Takashi Miike. Since then, his films have shown the same propensity toward genre alchemy (his English-language debut, The Midnight Meat Train, begins as a simple slasher film before abruptly turning into a riff on a Grimm fairy tale), but little in the way of thematic refinement. His latest effort, the bloody thriller No One Lives, is yet another freewheeling genre experiment.
In the film, a wealthy couple (Luke Evans and Laura Ramsey) take a road trip and stop at a dingy diner, only to be harassed by a backwoods gang of thieves and murderers. The gang takes the couple hostage, but the tables are quickly turned when Evans’s character, known only as Driver, turns out to be a ruthless killer himself. A game of cat and mouse ensues, proving the ideal template for Kitamura’s intricate, Argentoesque kill scenes.
Pointedly crude, No One Lives is designed to counteract any and all denigrations of its various obscenities. It’s blatantly misogynistic, exceptionally gory, and unrepentantly stupid, as if Kitamura composed each scene as a giant middle finger aimed squarely at the film’s inevitable naysayers. If only the material was as ballsy, as an indistinct visual design and a screenplay brimming with platitudes render the film virtually incomprehensible.
Ultimately, the film is nothing more than a glorified gimmick exploited for decidedly diminished returns, even if it does occasionally rise above the level of mere blood and guts. Kitamura stages an elaborate revenge saga in which the roles of victim and oppressor constantly shift, and from scene to scene, our allegiance to the characters changes based on their actions, suggesting a world where good and evil represent two sides of the same coin. Not exactly challenging stuff, but for a film largely disinterested in anything beyond boobs and blood, any semblance of subtext (intentional or otherwise) proves a welcome reprieve.