First it's "John Dies at the End", and now we have yet another low-profile horror effort that spoils its ending in the title. Now, don't get me wrong, that isn't to say that I don't kind of understand what the deal is with these titles, because by the time these films finally saw a theatrical release, they had gathered so much word-of-mouth from the festival circuits that the filmmakers figured that they may as well go ahead and tell you how things end up before your buddies do. ...Well, in all fairness, "John Dies at the End" didn't entirely live up to the promises made by its title... or at least I don't think it did (It was a confusing, but decent flick), and at any rate, I doubt that people were talking all that much about this film after the Toronto International Film Festival. Needless to say, it doesn't exactly help that the makers of this film don't appear to be sharp enough to come up with that "spoiler title" strategy that I just attempted to explain. Well, actually, this film's title is much more intelligent than the film itself, as it is right when it says that "no one lives", seeing as how those who perceive reality have no concept of the subjective viewpoint of their peers, who could not truly live, are mere components to the illusion that a human's reality is perceived by more than one person, and appear to interpret you as a mere, not truly real component to their reality, even though you really are, or rather, "I", ostensibly the core of all reality, really am. ...I don't know if you have to be as simple-minded as a splatter thriller fan to be totally confused by that theory, but believe me, it sounded better in my head, and as this film will tell you, somewhat interesting ideas are not always executed as sharply as they probably should be. Sorry, Ryuhei Kitamura, but it would appear that the "Midnight Meat Train" isn't going to be passing by twice, even though calling "Midnight Meat Train" a fluke is kind of questionable, not unlike calling this film a big mess, from a filmmaking standpoint that is (There's plenty of messiness in this killer thriller, if you know what I mean, splatter fans), for although there's no getting around this film's many problems, I must admit that there are some decent elements.
There's not only only so much meat to this minimalist, simple-minded premise, but only so much originality, or at least it seems that way, considering that the interpretation of this story is so trite in a lot of ways, and yet, while uniqueness is limited, it can be found, at least in concept, dealing with refreshing, hunter-against-hunter subject matter that offers some potential. It should go without saying that such potential ends up being seriously undercut, but on paper, there is some meat to do injustice to, or justice if you have more patience than me, who must admit that there is, in fact, some justice being done, at least from the effects department. Don't let the "film festival submission" title fool you, as this is pretty much a mindless splatter feature, and on that level, while things all too often go over-the-top, gore is just as often effective, at least on a visceral level, as the creativity and audacity that goes into the disturbing, if questionable imagery that drives many aspects of this thriller are indeed impressive. Again, the gleeful celebration of gory goodness doesn't always work in this film, but it works about as well as anything in this mess, having a certain morbid entertainment to it, punctuated by occasions in which violence really does supplement a sense of genuine tension, which couldn't be supplemented without first being established. That is where director Ryuhei Kitamura comes in, for although his efforts are generally pretty sloppy, there is the occasional highlight to his directorial performance, whose plays with the aforementioned disturbing imagery, as well as atmospheric kicks which aren't that unsubtle, graces this film with more bite than it deserves, or at least enough intrigue to open your eyes to possibilities. These glimpses into a much more passable film may serve to further frustrate you over the final product's loss of potential, but it's hard to deny them, and no matter how limited strengths are here, they're prominent enough for the final product to border on, well, mediocrity, which is relatively flattering. I guess that should tell you just how frustrating it is that the final product can't even reach that level, having its share of highlights, but ultimately collapsing through mediocrity and into contempt, driven down by the overwhelming pressure of its flaws, which even extend to the originality factor I was complimenting earlier.
In concept, there are refreshing elements to this premise, so much so that it's easy to spot unique areas, but in execution, this is the same-old-same-old, as David Cohen's script goes bombarded with trope, after trope, after trope, until it stands as simply trite, with overly familiar plotting and even overly familiar characters, which isn't to say that this film stands to tell you more about character types you already know and, well, are tired of. There's hardly any background information on the characters who stand at the focus of this man-on-man thriller, and gradual exposition is seriously lacking, and I'd be more willing to forgive that if the leads weren't such questionable figures who need development in order for you to get used to them as more than just pieces of garbage, or rather, mere chunks of meat for the grinder, which often gets to be too gratuitous for you to "enjoy" these dirtbags' facing their comeuppance. Both undercooking and familiarity reflect considerable laziness in the characterization of this film, and the performers sure aren't doing anything to obscure such laziness, as the best performances are mediocre interpretations of very little acting material, while the typical performance has a tendency to ham up material to the point of stripping the characters of their convincingness. It's a story of evil vs. evil, yet if it wasn't for the unsubtle characterization, then it would be hard to get a grip on who the lesser of the two is, as the performances are just so unconvincing, even if it is hard to sell material like this. Make no mistake, problems within David Cohen's script extend well beyond clichés and questionable characterization, because even though few elements of this film are as good as mediocre, Cohen's writing is particularly shoddy, with dialogue that ranges from bland to embarrassing, if not laughable, as well as plotting that meanders along, typically waiting for the next splatter to get mildly exciting. It's bad enough that the film is dumb, but it's also dull, and for this, blame is due not only to Cohen's monotonous story structuring, but to Ryuhei Kitamura's storytelling, which has its effective moments, and rarely allows momentum to stop entirely, but still lets plenty of moments get blandly quieter than you'd expect, while all too often beating you over the head with subtlety issues that just make the problems - of which there are very, very, very many - all the more glaring. The film has its moments, but on the whole, it's simply mediocre... for a while, until it reaches a point that should pick up, but instead plunges deeper and deeper into messiness, frustrating and distancing, until what you end up with is a dumb and dull disaster of a final product that offers little that you haven't seen before, and probably even less to enjoy.
Overall, a certain uniqueness to this story concept inspires a certain degree of immediate intrigue, sometimes expanded upon by highlights in gory thrills, as well as some atmospheric chills, thus leaving the final product to border on, at the very least, mediocrity, but not to where you can come close to forgiving the trite plotting, thoroughly questionable characterization, unconvincing acting, stupidity and distancingly, maybe even dully meandering storytelling that drive "No One Lives" into disaster as a lame-brain, bland and all around bad splatter "thriller".
1.75/5 - Poor