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'No One Lives': Horror film with a twist can't keep its secrets ★ 1/2

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In a remote roadhouse on a rural back road, the young couple (played by Laura Ramsey and Luke Evans), towing all their worldly possessions in a trailer for their cross-country move, are just settling in for dinner when the thugs arrive. And they're accosted.

"We don't want any trouble."

When has that line ever dissuaded anyone from doing their worst? Never.

What the couple doesn't know, but we do, is that these five backwoods Goths have just botched a simple burglary and had to slaughter a family that interrupted the heist. And no matter what their brutish leader (Lee Tergesen) says, no matter what steps Amber (Lindsey Shaw) takes to intervene, there's no defusing hothead Flynn (Derek Magyar).

"Pretty. Young. Just the way I like 'em," he says to Betty (Ramsey).

"Don't," she says, staring down her beau (Evans).

"Don't," Flynn adds. "You don't look like the type."

Oh, but he is. It's only when the five have nabbed the pair that they find that out, ransacking their car, discovering another woman (Adelaide Clemens) hidden there. And it's only when the blood spatters and the screams peal into the long, dark night that we figure out why this is titled "No One Lives."

Ryuhei Kitamura ("The Midnight Meat Train"), working from first-time writer David Cohen's script, wrings a few jolts and some mordant laughs out of this "Last House on the Left" variation on an overly familiar formula.

"No One Lives" has to give away its biggest, best secret (the killers have messed with the wrong guy) far too early for its own good. The victims may be brave, but their response to this turnabout doesn't make them put on their thuggish thinking caps. That robs the picture of suspense, though the odd moment of compassion kicks in, making us fear for this or that character's fate.

Kitamura and Cohen try to finesse these gaping holes in the picture by giving their serial killer a sick sense of humor to go with his twisted "hobby."

"I don't lack emotion," he complains, bickering with Betty. "I just process it differently."

Evans ("Clash of the Titans," "The Hobbit") is no "Dexter," but he handles the rare wry moments well, even covered in goo and gore. Clemens ("Silent Hill: Revelation") lets us see the desperate wheels turning as Emma, the hostage, gives up on warning her liberators and starts computing her odds: "My best hope of escape is while he's killing the whole bunch of you."

Her best hope, and ours, is that the title's a lie. But with every scene, every glower through the gore, Evans tries to dash that hope until the red stuff oozes out.

'No One Lives' -- 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating:
R (for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity)
Running time: 1:26
Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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