Under conditions where no character is fundamentally kind spirited, and where deaths occur like a lottery – paying no attention to genre rules of survival – there is difficulty in deciding who to root for in this Ryûhei Kitamura production. Instead, allegiances lie with the real psychopath, the nameless slaughterer, credited as ‘Driver’, played by Evans in a masterstroke of casting. Not since James Bond has mass murder been so cool. In fact, smartly dressed, suave as hell and with a personal collection of high tech killing machines, Evans’ character has a lot in common with Britain’s best-loved hit man. With an arsenal of the slickest, driest one liners to sign off the deaths of his victims and a growing army of drooling women desperate to be murdered by him, the only difference between the two is the guise under which they operate. The ‘Driver’ is much more honest about his homicidal motivation – “It keeps me fit”, he says.
You’ve got to give credit for the ingenuity in which this bloody vocation is executed. No one, not even the audience, gets off easy, with each character dispatched in gloriously gruesome, and often creative manners. There is some effort in the script towards building a backstory for all the mutilation, which is at times a bit stretched, but, without giving too much away, makes for an interesting, psychological subtext that gently reflects the audience’s own desire to watch such disgusting films. However, though present, the subtext is delivered with appropriate subtlety, existing to be considered if you wish, but never overpowering the film’s overall thrill. There is no attempt to justify the violence with moral or psychological reasons; the filmmakers are aware that such violence could never be truly justified.
Accepting this, and as horrific as such scenes are, it’s all in good fun. Though graphic, the violence is treated with a sense of humour, coming sometimes from the ‘Driver’s playful indifference, sometimes from his machine-like determination and sometimes from Kitamura’s brilliantly explicit references to cinema’s savage past. When Evans steadily rises from beneath the waters of Apocalypse Now, you know the director had fun with this movie. Kitamura’s unashamed uses of reference and genre cliché are employed as celebratory tributes, and are balanced by the numerous occasions in which they are overturned. Thrillingly grotesque and wickedly funny, No One Lives is an adrenaline shot of a movie, proving there is life in the slasher genre yet.