Utterly mad yet improbably fascinating, Ryuhei Kitamura’s “No One Lives” camouflages an oddly compelling central idea with the trashy trappings of the low-budget slasher movie. The expectations raised by the first 20 minutes, however, make it all the more disappointing when incoherent slaughter replaces soul-chilling dread.
Unfolding in a single, eventful night, David Lawrence Cohen’s loopy script details the outrageous misfortune of Driver (Luke Evans) and Betty (Laura Ramsey), a tense couple with a weird interpersonal vibe. After stopping at a deserted motel for cryptic conversation and explicit sex — during which we notice the strange scar on Betty’s stomach — the pair run afoul of a ruthless gang of hillbilly hooligans. News of a missing heiress streams from televisions, but what she has to do with any of our characters has yet to be revealed. Like the hillbillies, we’ve only just realized that attacking Driver might not have been the wisest move.
Filming in Louisiana, the photographer Daniel Pearl (who shot the 1974 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as well as the 2003 remake) gives the early scenes a vague but irresistible menace. Terrified screams echo in dense woods, pounding feet crunch through glass, and animal traps lie in wait for the unwary. But Mr. Kitamura, an action enthusiast who prefers to show rather than tell, seems unaware that the film’s dialogue is laughable, its characters unfathomable and the acting often less than optimal.