For the past few months, I have been trying to unravel the mystery of when the Luke Evans bandwagon began and what, specifically, was the catalyst for the actor's sudden and precipitous rise in popularity and visibility that has him attached to future projects like 'The Crow' reboot, upcoming sure-fire blockbusters such as 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' (and its coffer-lining continuation 'The Hobbit: There and Back Again') and a new Dracula film that's been cleverly titled 'Dracula.'
Now, this is no knock on Evans as a performer or person, as, by all accounts, he's a fine actor who doesn't strangle puppies or push the elderly down lengthy staircases in his spare time. It's just that, considering the roles he's taken, playing beleaguered police detectives in 'The Raven' and 'Blitz; the cranky god Apollo in 'Clash of the Titans'; the even crankier god Zeus in 'Immortals'; and, most recently, the mustachioed European criminal who finds himself amidst all the oiled-up dudebro subtext between The Rock and Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious 6' (at least, I think that's what that movie was about), there's no definitive performance (through no fault of Evans' ability as an actor, certainly) that would help one to better determine the vehicle (sorry) that truly facilitated this sudden rise toward leading-man status. And I am pleased to announce that 'No One Lives,' from director Ryuhei Kitamura ('Midnight Meat Train,' 'Versus'), can also be crossed off that list.
To that end, while other recent films from WWE Studios – i.e., 'Dead Man Down' and 'The Call' – have managed to impress others on the High-Def Digest roster, the trend comes to a screeching halt with this boringly fetishistic and repetitive slasher flick that is so hot and bothered by the jejune cleverness of its own twist, one can only imagine screenwriter David Lawrence Cohen wrote most of it following a sacrificial offering at the alter of Shyamalan. In that regard, 'No One Lives' feels like a leftover M. Nugget from a Hollywood pitch meeting wherein the once-promising director lobbed an endless supply of convoluted storylines at increasingly disinterested executives like some desperate vaudevillian; and just before the hook emerged to pull him offstage, he breathlessly spouted, "What if a group of criminals happened to inadvertently target someone more deranged than them? How crazy would that be?"
As it turns out: not very. As one might suspect, despite its surefire-home-run conceit, 'No One Lives' fails to understand that things like story and character are the foundations on which such trite twists need to be built…you know, so as to seem less trite. If you need more to go on than the insane adrenaline rush offered by the mysterious badass vs. petty criminals concept, the movie begins with a cold open featuring a young blonde woman (Adelaide Clemens) running through the forest from some unknown assailant. After she falls victim to a snare at the edge of the woods, the young woman scrawls a message on a tree that perplexes authorities and excites the local news.
Cut to present day: as two road weary travelers (Evans and a glassy-eyed female passenger) decide to make the Highwaymen Motel their end-of-day destination, because the Thinly-Veiled Allusion Inn was completely booked for the night. After a brief and peculiar romantic interlude, that is more uncomfortable and strained than a Bruce Willis junket interview, the two make their way – complete with mysterious trailer hitched to a conspicuous BMW – to a roadside steakhouse where a run-in with the aforementioned criminals sets things into motion.
After Evans (whose character name is never revealed and is only credited as Driver) and Miss Valley of the Dolls 2013 are attacked by a go-getter named Flynn (Derek Magyar) and sent to be tortured by WWE superstar Brodus Clay (a.k.a. George Murdoch), things quickly go south for Flynn and the rest of his clan of highway men (and women – this is an equal opportunity band of thieves and murderers), following the discovery of Emma – the very same woman from the opening sequence – locked away in a not-standard-on-any-BMW compartment in their so-called victims' trunk.
Now, what follows could have been a fun and inventive hunter-becomes-the-hunted tale where crossbows fire more rounds than the machine gun at the end of 'The Wild Bunch,' but instead we have to settle for a series of forgettable and uninventive kills that are interspersed with a collection of half-baked flashbacks intended to inform on Emma's Patty Hearst-like relationship with Driver. At this point, 'No One Lives' effectively becomes two films vying for the viewer's attention and, frankly, it doesn’t matter which one you become more invested in because they're equally idiotic.
This is the kind of movie that someone slogs through on his or her ascent to the top. And while it certainly looks as though Luke Evans is headed in that direction, 'No One Lives' will likely be remembered as the rung he should have skipped.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'No One Lives' comes as a 25GB Blu-ray in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack in the standard plastic two-disc keepcase. The film will play a series of previews, including Rob Zombie's 'The Lords of Salem,' but they can all be skipped to jump directly to the top menu.
Presented with a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec, 'No One Lives' has a quality picture that makes the most out of nearly every frame and manages to highlight the detail and color of the film, even during scenes set at night or in dark, enclosed spaces. For the most part, this means that regardless the level of available light in a given scene, the copious amounts of blood will run crimson on your screen.
The image is also richly detailed for the most part; facial features are strongly represented and there is a decent amount of texture present on the characters' costumes and in the background elements – especially in the wooded areas where foliage and forest growth give a real sense of place to the proceedings. There are, however, a few moments where the focus tends to be soft, or the light tends to wash away some finer elements, but those tend to be few and far between and don't really take away too much from the overall presentation or look of the film. Most impressive is the image's contrast levels, which manage to consistently present a dark, and foreboding world with deep, inky blacks and still fill it with plenty of fine detail and gradation.
Overall, this is a decent looking disc that doesn't skimp on the low-light detail and leave you wondering what it is that you just saw.
While the image manages to impress and deliver a consistent product, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is another story altogether. When listening to the film under standard volume levels, you'll be left unaware that characters actually have voices and that the events being depicted in the film actually come with a bevy of sound effects to make them more exciting and feel like an actual part of the world the filmmaker is trying to create. Thankfully, if you crank your receiver up to volume levels suitable for a block party, you'll be treated to all the auditory sensations you though had been deliberately left out of the film.
In that regard, dialogue is unreasonably soft in most places – which is not necessarily a bad thing considering the lines the actors have been asked to recite. But, for those whose job it is to listen to such drivel, it presents them with the unfortunate task of scanning back a few frames and turning the volume up - just to mutter to themselves, "Oh, that's just miserable."
With the dialogue so low, it should come as no surprise, then, that the balance is off, too. Now, for the most part, the actors' voices and the smaller, more atmospheric elements of the sound mix seem to be tied together, but the musical score and more bombastic aspects of the mix – e.g., explosions, gun fire and wood chippers – aren't, causing many scenes to be far too loud when the score really picks up and/or someone's getting the full 'Fargo' treatment.
When atmospheric elements can actually be detected, there are some hints that the rear channels do a great job of adding extra dimensionality with things like echo and voice placement. Sadly, these flashes of quality are few and far between and you're left with an uneven sound mix that should have helped prop this already anemic film up.
In a crowded video marketplace, 'No One Lives' has two distinct advantages: 1) It will be easy for horror fans to zero in on this film in a line-up of other movies and 2) Luke Evans' name and face may be readily recognizable from his cam shaft crazy film earlier this summer. At any rate, this grimy slasher flick will probably enjoy a decent life as a rental and/or impulse buy. Unless you've never met a slasher film you didn't like, this one's not worth becoming acquainted with.