How bad is No One Lives, the new bottom-feeding schlock-fest from WWE Studios? Simply put: It’s bad enough to make some of the studio’s other offerings, like the Steve Austin deathmatch movie The Condemned and the Kane-starring slasher flick See No Evil, look like genre gems. Even the built-in demographic may leave disappointed, as the film’s featured wrestler—hulking Brodus Clay, grunting maybe 10 lines—serves little purpose beyond providing the villain with a giant carcass in which to hide.
That nasty bit of business is just one of several gruesome parlor tricks performed by Luke Evans’ human monster, a ruthless sociopath as unstoppable as Jason Voorhees, but blessed with the smarmy “charisma” of a young Matt Dillon. In a baldly telegraphed bait-and-switch, this torture-fiend is introduced as the protagonist, traveling cross-country with lover Laura Ramsey. Their road trip, characterized by ominously loaded quarrels, grinds to a halt when the innocent-seeming couple falls into the clutches of a violent gang. But who’s the real threat? Only after discovering missing coed Adelaide Clemens bound and gagged in Evans’ trailer do the kidnapping lowlifes realize what they’re up against. Let the predictable round of Ten Little Indians begin.
No One Lives was helmed by Ryûhei Kitamura, the Japanese director of The Midnight Meat Train and Versus. Scarce is the gonzo visual imagination Kitamura brought to those goofy but stylish B-movies; here, he manages only one memorable image, a striking overhead shot of Evans slithering backwards out of a vent and into a bathroom. Not that a little behind-the-camera panache would have saved this thrill-free thriller, which alternates shrill shouting matches with generic executions. Suspense and wit are in equally short supply: When not walking blithely into danger, characters spout groan-worthy quips like, “If I wanted to hear from an asshole, I’d rip you a new one.” The carnage, too, is unexceptional. After seven Saw movies, will audiences bat an eye at the sight of a squirming victim lowered into the twirling blades of a conveniently accessible machine?
Most fatally, No One Lives neglects to provide a rooting interest. Great horror movies engender sympathy for the lambs being led to the slaughter. Failing that, a lesser fright flick might at least get viewers cheering for the butcher. There’s no side to take in Kitamura’s film; the killer is a smug bore, his victims disposable scumbags. Not even Clemens, the most superficially likeable of the lot, inspires much affection. (Cutting down her default comrades with withering asides, she seems less traumatized than perpetually irritated.) Faced with such a deplorable cast of characters, viewers can only hope that the title is a promise—and that the film won’t take too long to fulfill it.