Tell a bog-standard horror movie director that you want surprises and the results tend to be so predictable as to negate the request. How many horror films simply drop a surprise murderer on you, or show that X wasn’t dead after all, or have the evil *thing* still get you. Surprise!
So when I read that No-One Gets Out Alive had some surprises along the way, I went in not expecting much. Yet the only surprising thing was that this movie did what all good horror should do by exploring one question: when you have nothing, what will you do for the promise of something?
Ambar (Cristina Rodlo), an undocumented Mexican immigrant who is desperate to buy ID papers on the black market in time for a key job interview, moves into a ‘women only’ apartment building and burns through what little funds she has on her rent deposit. Yet ghostly apparitions litter the halls, flaky landlord/developer Red (Marc Menchaca) takes an uncomfortable shine to her, Red’s large and disturbed brother is banging his head on the walls in between incomprehensible chants, and the sound of women crying permeates the pipework throughout the building.
Coming in at a lean 85 minutes, No-One Gets Out Alive sets up some familiar bones to get started. There’s a spooky house, suspect people, a never-ending air of desperation, and an ancient box looming inside Ambar’s dreams. Yet the ghosts do little to directly threaten her, whilst her life outside the house is an exercise in telling much with little.
The movie doesn’t waste time waxing lyrical about Ambar’s predicament as it knows the circumstances are inherently familiar: she’s stuck. Money dwindling fast and with no job security, Ambar must be subservient to all in order to cling on to any independence. She can’t escape the house because she has nowhere to go.
What makes No-One Gets Out Alive a refreshing tenant lodged within an overcrowded horror complex is that it subtly shifts what kind of horror it is throughout the three acts. It’s not an out and out ghost story, instead using that as an in to something else. The presence of the recently dead permeate through the walls of Red’s rundown building like curtains fluttering in the night, yet what makes the curtains flap is far scarier.
The script and direction oozes from ghost story to murderous malaise, yet seed the cause of all our events throughout so that all due reverence is prepared for when the last twenty minutes shift into even deeper sub-genre territory.
The exploitation of Mexican immigrants motif informs Ambar’s choices (or lack thereof), but the movie also explores the sacrifices made for love and the repercussions on those sacrificing. Whether it be flashbacks hinting that something happened whilst Ambar was caring for her sick mother in Mexico, or the relationship between an ambiguous Red and his lumbering unwell brother, No-One Gets Out Alive threads its wares skilfully into a seamless tapestry of disquiet.
No-One Gets Out Alive draws inspiration from Aztec culture for its plot and, perhaps, cultural horror movies such as His House for its direction. As in His House, No-One Gets Out Alive paints a picture of those seeking a better life coming face to face with indifference or resentment from their destination, yet beholden to it whilst the consequences of the past continue to haunt them.
Be it ghosts of lives destroyed, the dominion of power over the powerless, or a darkness crawling out of the shadows, this world exists on the sanctity of sacrifice. Will your offering be enough?
Words by Mike Record