Buried in the middle of a drab and unremarkable glut of factory-made Netflix genre product, gothic chiller No One Gets Out Alive elevates itself from the pack almost immediately. It’s a film made with a lick of style and a grasp of location, a distinctive personality where there often isn’t even the vaguest whiff of one. There are imperfections here, especially near the end, but it’s the work of someone striving to stand out, to do something that will linger in the memory rather than fade into the over-populated homepage background.
That someone is director Santiago Menghini, turning his feature debut into an effective calling card (he’ll be behind some big remake soon, I’ll bet), adapting British horror writer Adam Nevill’s book of the same name, transporting the action from Perry Barr in Birmingham to Cleveland in Ohio. It’s a smart transfer, tweaking the story to focus on undocumented Mexican immigrant Ambar (Cristina Rodlo), struggling to find her place in a country that doesn’t want her there. She gets a low-paid job at a clothing factory where she finds an advert for cheap lodging. The crumbling house she ends up at isn’t ideal, living in peeling disrepair with other immigrant women, but it’s all she can afford and her predicament means that she’s forced to overlook the many red flags that come with it. Because as sinister as her comically gothic new home might be (along with the creepy brothers that run it), it’s not that much better on the outside either.
The evil at the heart of No One Gets Out Alive is a loosely defined hodgepodge of familiar elements but Menghini, with a history of horror shorts (one of which is being turned into a full-length feature by Saw director James Wan), is an assured hand at conjuring and sustaining a creepy atmosphere, maximising empty space and sound, so even if we’re in tried-and-tested territory, we’re at least being confidently led through it. Despite the grimness of the location (Ohio has never looked less appealing), Menghini never lets his film get lost in the murk, it’s crisply, thoughtfully shot, at times artfully so, as if a graphic novel suddenly moved in front of our eyes. The house is, as mentioned, luridly over-the-top in its design but it gives the story the feel of a fairy-tale (like something Guillermo del Toro would attach his name to), albeit one rooted somewhat in the grinding reality of being undocumented in America.
Ambar’s story is harrowing enough, without the genre elements, and Rodlo plays it as if she’s starring in a grounded drama about immigration rather than a fantastical horror, giving an added impact to the mayhem that follows. The final act gets a little lost on the specifics and a little vague on the rules of the Dybbuk-esque box that houses the wonderfully nightmarish monster at the film’s centre but there’s enough of a jolt here for horror fans to feel briefly sated and enough for Netflix horror fans to feel briefly transformed.
No One Gets Out Alive is now available on Netflix