No One Lives (2012)
★ / ★★★★
While eating in a local bar, an unnamed man (Luke Evans) and his girlfriend, Betty (Laura Ramsey), are approached by Flynn (Derek Magyar), one of the five thieves responsible for murdering an entire family. Despite Flynn’s intimidating presence, Betty is not afraid of him. In fact, she seems to be concerned for the man because he has no idea what he has gotten himself into. She glances at her boyfriend almost as if to beg telepathically not to make trouble.
The strength of “No One Lives,” written by David Cohen and directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, lies in its twists in the first half. It takes the familiar premise of people on a road trip encountering potentially violent–if not downright psychotic–strangers and plays with it until it is time to lay the cards out on the table. However, once the twists are revealed, the screenplay fails to offer anything fresh. The movie turns into standard slasher killings where blood is king and the body count increases every five minutes.
A character worth rooting for is a very necessary ingredient in horror pictures especially when it involves a prey and predator. Here, not one character is likable–not even the missing heiress, Emma (Adelaide Clemens), who is worth two million dollars. She is supposed to be one we want to see survive, given that she is a victim, but her motivations are kept in the dark for so long that we cannot help but suspect her of being a villain, too. Furthermore, Clemens plays Emma so broodingly that she looks like a scowling, cheap knock-off of Michelle Williams. Her one-dimensional acting, quite frankly, annoyed me.
A key flashback involves the killer and the kidnapped. There is no reason for it to have been broken into parts. Because each bit is inserted between scenes of torture and maiming, a potentially interesting statement embedded in the flashback is diminished. Though negligible because we do not care about the sheep for slaughter in the first place, the flashbacks hinder the flow of scenes involving the hunted panicking and scrambling whatever needed to be done in order to survive.
By the end, it has turned into a complete mess. The final confrontation involves silly hand-to-hand combat and characters wanting to have the “honor” of killing their assailant. I found it very difficult to believe that people would hesitate or fail to end the nightmare when the opportunity is staring at them in the face. This is just one example of the screenplay being rife with excuses in order to drag along a very thin–and lame-brained–plot.
Boy Culture (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
This surprised me because it looks like a typical indie LGBT movie but it manages to rise above its clichés and tell a meaningful story about three roommates who genuinely love each other despite their differences. Derek Magyar is a male hustler who is self-deprecating but sensitive, Darryl Stephens wants to sleep around more but is anxious whenever he has to visit his family because they are not aware of his sexuality, and Jonathon Trent is pretty much like Magyar and Stephens’ kid because they took him in when he has nowhere else to go. The way this film played with the dynamics of the three characters made me care for them at their worst and laugh along with them when whenever they’re put in awkward or embarrassing situations. There are barely any sex scenes, a quality I like in LGBT films, because the focus is more on the characters’ emotional motivations than their physical yearnings. It’s very easy to shed one’s clothes but very difficult to shed one’s soul. As for the hustling aspect, I didn’t care much about it except for when Magyar’s most recent customer told his story regarding his first love. Those moments were touching because Magyar learns from an older person and applies the story and its lessons to his own life. Even though the characters do stupid things sometimes (like most people), they’re smart in their own way and insightful when they need to be. With a higher budget, I think this would’ve been something better because the script is already interesting. I applaud Q. Allan Broca (who also wrote and directed the hilarious “Eating Out”) because he was able to shape the story into something that the audience can really connect with.