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It’s always fun to keep an eye on the progress of Asian directors in Hollywood, especially when the director in question is someone like Ryûhei Kitamura, Japanese helmer of enduring cult favourite “Versus”. Having enjoyed modest success in the English language already with his flawed but fun Clive Barker adaptation “Midnight Meat Train”, Kitamura’s latest offering “No One Lives” sees him sticking to what he does best, with more over the top, hyper-gory genre madness.
The plot aims to offer a twist on the usual homicidal hillbillies backwoods stalk n’ slash formula, with a gang of low down brutes capturing a couple of rich seeming city folks, only to find out that they’ve made a grave error when their intended victim turns out to be a particularly vicious, not to mention well-trained serial killer (Luke Evans, soon to be seen in “Fast & Furious 6”). With a missing heiress (Adelaide Clemens, “The Great Gatsby”) caught up in the middle, the scene is set for a spectacularly violent showdown, as he traps the redneck gang in their cabin and starts knocking them off in a series of creatively nasty ways – which of course they don’t take none too kindly to.
“No One Lives” really sees Kitamura cutting loose and going for broke, mixing the dynamic stylings of his earlier and best works with a truly demented disdain for common sense or any kind of moral compass. The film is the very definition of a meat movie, packed full of utterly disposable characters, all of whom are simply there to entertain the audience by dying horribly, generally after showing a little skin in the case of the female cast members. The fact that Kitamura is clearly very aware of what he is serving up, making no attempt whatsoever to generate any empathy or humanity to his characters gives the film a determinedly psychotic edge, not least since it seems to be pushing Evans as some kind of bizarrely inappropriate anti-hero protagonist.
In many ways it’s Evans’ film, basically playing the kind of role Tak Sakaguchi did in “Versus”, complete with trenchcoat (when not naked and covered in blood) and ridiculous mock-epic posing, spouting an endless run of hilariously daft dialogue and one liners as he rants on about his murderous nature and supposed lack of emotion in weirdly self-aware fashion. The script as a whole is frankly insane, rarely making sense and at times verging on spoofery – the film is neatly summed up midway through when one character casually observes “You just killed the one person who had a soul”.
Make no mistake, this is mad, mad stuff, and the violence and bloodshed more than matches the unfettered gonzo nature of the plot. While there’s inevitably a fair amount of CGI on show, Kitamura is an inherently visceral as well as visual director, and he throws in an impressive number of gloriously splattery moments that will likely have gorehounds cheering. The overall air of devil may care wrongness does mean that the film has the feel of a red band cartoon, its carnage played for laughs rather than tension or terror, though this is by no means a bad thing, and it comes across as though Kitamura was aiming for, and generally succeeding in attaining, a kind of “Evil Dead 2” or wacky grindhouse feel.
To be honest it’s genuinely difficult to say whether Kitamura was taking “No One Lives” seriously – not that it matters, as for viewers unburdened with a need for coherence, substance or good taste will certainly find a great deal to enjoy here. Clocking in at a lean, mean 86 minutes, it’s an entertainingly off-kilter package that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the director or the kind of person who enjoys seeing a man being lowered head first into a wood-chipper.
“No One Lives” arrives in UK cinemas 29th May through Anchor Bay.
Ryûhei Kitamura (director) / David Cohen (screenplay)
CAST: Luke Evans … Driver
Adelaide Clemens … Emma
Derek Magyar … Flynn
Beau Knapp … Denny
America Olivo … Tamara
Lee Tergesen … Hoag
Lindsey Shaw … Amber