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No One Gets Out Alive (15)
Director: Santiago Menghini
Screenplay: Jon Croker, Fernanda Coppel
Starring: Cristina Rodlo, Marc Menchaca, David Figlioli
Review: RJ Bland
It's a popular theory that horror movie trends tend to reflect the contemporary concerns of society. Nuclear war, distrust of government, fear of foreign nations. Whilst these are all still relevant today, there are a few more that have recently joined the party. Eco-horror feels as if it might well be one that picks up over the next few years as the effects of climate change become more and more severe. Then there's socially-conscious horror – a sub-genre that has always been around but in today's volatile political climate is undoubtedly relevant. It's something of a broad church with issues such as race, poverty and social injustice all included – think Jordan Peele's Get Out and Nia Da Costa's Candyman. And then there is immigration, a topic that divides many people (Brexit proves that here in the UK it's a wedge issue). The fact remains that people moving to or seeking refuge in countries so they can have a better life or protect themselves/their families is a notion that we can (and should) all empathise with – and not something that is going to go away. In fact, it's very likely to increase in the coming years. Recent films such as Our House and The Forever Purge have been bold enough to delve into this complex subject, albeit in quite different ways. Santiago Menghini's No One Gets Out Alive is the latest to shine a light on some of these issues.
After some grainy (and creepy) archive footage of some ominous objects - including a rather large box - being excavated from a tomb in Mexico, we flash forward to the present day where Ambar (Cristina Rodlo), a Mexican immigrant is trying to start a new life in Cleveland after the death of her mother. Finding work and housing is never easy, but when you are an undocumented migrant, it's even harder – but Ambar manages to find a room in a once grand but now rather run-down boarding house. The guy running the house, Red (Marc Menchaca), is a little odd and Ambar finds it a bit strange that she is one of only two guests currently staying there. She soon finds a job working in a factory and begins to save up some cash so she can acquire a false ID, so she can stay in the US without living in constant fear that she's going to be discovered (and deported). However, these fears are soon added to when she begins to have disturbing dreams about her deceased mother and odd things start happening in her building. Why is Red so secretive and what is he hiding in his study? What is the source of all the weird sounds coming from the floor below? And is she imagining the ominous dark figures lurking within her dilapidated boarding house? And what is the deal with that old box that keeps haunting her dreams...
No One Gets Out Alive is based on the 2014 Adam Nevill novel of the same name. Nevill is perhaps best known to genre fans for writing the book behind David Bruckner's hugely impressive The Ritual (2017). That was a film where we had an hour of patient, measured storytelling which rapidly turned into a fantastical nightmare and NOGOA (it's just easier to write that from now on) follows a similar trajectory. Although structurally (and tonally) they strike a similar note, visually, the two films are quite different. Where Bruckner's film was cold, sparse and void of colour, Menghini's is lurid yet somehow manages to feel murky and oppressive. Comparisons have been made to some of Del Toro's earlier work, such as The Devil's Backbone and it's easy to see why. To look at, NOGOA is a treat for the eyes (even if it does make Cleveland look like somewhere you never want to set foot in!)
Of course, a pleasing aesthetic isn't enough on its own to appease the vast majority of genre fans (cough* Crimson Peak). Fortunately, NOGOA manages to pair up this artistry with an ominous atmosphere that slowly creeps up on you. There's a subtlety to it, with Menghini shrouding his scenes in swathes of darkness and keeping his ghouls partially obscured for long stretches. It's not easy to make ghostly spectres that impactful nowadays because we've all grown so accustomed to them but our imaginations are left to fill in some of the gaps here, which always makes things a bit more unsettling. The final act pays off too, with a rather startling reveal that's up there with that scene in The Ritual as well.
As mentioned in the intro, the film digs into the theme of immigration and does a solid job of giving us a glimpse into the despair and vulnerability of it all. It's an added layer of horror on top of the supernatural shenanigans. A walk home in the dark or a soaring taxi fare feel just as unsettling as seeing a figure in the corner of your room (well, almost!). Cristina Rodlo does a grand job of conveying the inner conflict of our lead and although we don't ever really get to know too much about Ambar, she's a character that is at least easy to like and empathise with. Marc Menchaca is as impressive as you'd expect too.
It's probably fair to say that NOGOA is more focused on mood building and its central themes than unpacking the plot in any great detail. For some, this ambiguity will be welcome and those unanswered questions as the credits roll will be food for thought. Others may feel a little short-changed and those loose ends will sit a little uncomfortably. There are story strands and plot points that feel a tad disposable or lightweight – and ultimately forgotten about. However, the one sure way to ruin any good mystery is to explain it in too much detail. And NOGOA cannot be accused of that.
The slow burn narrative and ambiguity may not be to everyone's taste but No One Gets Out Alive is an atmospheric gothic chiller that boldly but ably delves into some difficult themes. It feels like a calling card for Director Santiago Menghini too.
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