Netflix specialises in the sort of horror film that takes a promising concept and squanders it on inconsequential compendiums of computer-generated gore and tired tropes. No One Gets Out Alive is no exception to the rule. First-time feature director Santiago Menghini, whose credits generally fall within visual effects, shows some promise in the build-up to a predictable climax. The film, adapted from a novel by Adam Nevill, has the potential to serve as an example of how horror can grapple with social problems. This engagement, however, serves only as window dressing for another lazy funfair haunted house.
The action follows Ambar (Cristina Rodlo), an undocumented immigrant newly arrived in Cleveland. The early stretches, depicting the precarity and exploitation of immigrant women, successfully imbue the film with something akin to a social consciousness. While the experience of these women is never fully explored, it nonetheless creates an atmosphere of danger before any apparitions arrive to torment Ambar. Some of these scenes are accompanied with segments from broadcast news, as when we hear a report about raids resulting in charges against migrant workers rather than those who employ them. This punctuates scenes of Ambar and others densely packed at work in a sweatshop as a lone white man patrols the aisles. The exploitation inherent in this system extends to the accommodation, here an unlikely Victorian boarding house wherein we’ll endure the bulk of the runtime.
Red (Marc Menchaca), shiftier than most landlords (if that’s even possible), is unsurprisingly not entirely honest with Ambar. He rents out rooms to women in his dilapidated house. If nothing else this serves as further justification to victimise women in a horror film, as the narrative provides no internal logic accounting for Red and his brother’s choice of prey. The brother, Becker (David Figlioli), is kept secret and appears only by the providence of writerly intervention. Once the plot gets going, none of this will matter all that much. Whatever social awareness is set up by the filmmakers will be trod upon as soon as the film becomes more interested in the inhabitant of a mysterious artifact.
This artifact, a chest unearthed in the ersatz documentary footage that opens the film, contains an ancient, computer-generated demon that feeds on the women trapped by Red and Becker. The purpose of this will not be revealed and, when this demon comes to feed on Red, the need for female victims is revealed as arbitrary. Becker is a towering, dominant physical presence. Where the early stretches of the film focus on the exploitation of immigrant women, the climax demonstrates a more general physical exploitation of women in horror films. There are sequences of brutal violence leading up to the climax, all of which is centred on the physicality of Becker. While these scenes are not lurid, they nonetheless reaffirm the structure of violence against women that so often lays the foundation of horror cinema. The film moves from a gesture towards social awareness to the murky indistinguishability of mainstream expectations.
The shift in focus mirrors a shift in visual competency. There are scenes in the film where Menghini displays an excellent understanding of depth within the frame. Figures linger in the background, barely suggested in the shadows. Some of these devolve into familiar loud noises and sudden movements, of course, but the overall effect is admirable. The use of visual depth is matched only by a scene where Ambar experiences a memory of conflict only through the presence of non-corporeal sounds. She stands in her room, terrified as furniture shifts, feet shuffle, and voices scream. It’s the best scene, as well as evidence of a much better film. However, even Menghini’s understanding of depth can’t make up for the woefully underlit entirety of the film. There is, simply, no contrast to the image. Everything is murky, cast in indiscriminate shadow. The features of Ambar’s face often throw shadows over themselves.
This all builds to a climax so rote as to be not worth thinking through. When in doubt, Menghini falls back on his visual effects experience and gives us wounds and cracks aplenty. Despite some early promise, there’s very little to recommend in No One Gets Out Alive.
No One Gets Out Alive is available to stream on Netflix