Film name: No One Gets Out Alive
Release date: 2021
Starring: Cristina Rodio, Marc Menchaca
Director: Santiago Menghini
Script: Jon Croker, Fernanda Coppel
Length: 87 minutes
I was intrigued by the premise of No One Gets Out Alive, which was adapted from a novel by Adam Nevill.
The images of the set (essentially a haunted house) looked incredibly dark and sinister. And that’s beating off some very stiff competition from the horror genre overall!
Ambar (Cristina Rodio) has entered the US illegally and is working in a sweatshop in Cleveland. A family friend arranges an interview for a better job, but she needs fake documents to prove she was born in the US in order to be offered the position.
She is also forced to move from her motel because she’s been there a fortnight and hasn’t yet shown them her ID.
This is how she ends up taking a room, and paying a month upfront, in the brooding and rundown boarding house owned by Red (Marc Menchaca, who you may remember as Russ Langmore in Ozark) and his brother Becker.
Right from the start Ambar can hear women’s voices in the house, echoing through the pipes and up from the basement. There is a ghostly feel from the moment of her arrival in the house, but we don’t see any ghosts until quite late on.
She feels too threatened to stay and asks Red for her deposit back so that she can leave.
At work, she mistakenly trusts a female co-worker to facilitate the purchase of the fake ID she needs and loses all her money in that scam. Now penniless, she rides the subway until she finally calls Red in desperation to plead for her deposit back.
He takes Ambar back to the house where the final action sequence unfolds and the danger becomes apparent as opposed to being hinted at.
The backstory for Red and his even more cruel brother was very well constructed. Their parents were archaeologists who brought a box back from Mexico decades ago. Their father then killed their mother, and Becker began murdering women who came to the house soon afterwards.
What’s in the box and why are they feeding young women to it? This is hinted at most of the way through No One Gets Out Alive by psychological build up; there is comparatively little blood to be seen until quite late on.
I liked that about the film, though when Ambar left the house to go to work and visit friends it did reduce the narrative tension.
Unlike many horror films, No One Gets Out Alive was not an entirely immersive experience within the haunted house.
For that reason, it might have worked better as a TV series. Red’s character was very nuanced. He wants to be kind to Ambar, but he is in thrall to his brother and to the thing in the box.
Ambar’s story was also carefully crafted and delivered. She gave up hope of college to care for her sick mother, who has now died, leaving Ambar free to come to the US to seek a better life.
That life is hard and gruelling, perhaps in many ways worse than what she left behind in Mexico. She is isolated and vulnerable, yet resourceful and mature beyond her years. I rooted for Ambar at every stage and longed for her to escape the house.
Although the ghosts are calling out to Ambar, No One Gets Out Alive wasn’t exactly a ghost story. It was more of a mashup between ghost story and a serial killer narrative.
The subtext was quite complex. The thing in the box, which when revealed had obvious female qualities, came from Mexico.
So the danger to Ambar in the US partly originated from her home culture. The thing in the box and Ambar’s memories of her mother merge until Ambar becomes violently angry with her mother and imagines murdering her.
This is before she takes on the thing in the box. While Ambar was in no way a victim, the source of the horror was thoroughly female. The violence was very gendered and there were plenty of hints at anger between women in the horror, so it wasn’t easy to watch.
I would recommend No One Gets Out Alive for its strong female lead.
The ending is open to different interpretations, which Jim and I argued over energetically until we agreed to disagree.
Another strength of this film lay in the cinematography within the house. The set was utterly convincing. The acting from Rodio and Menchaca was very nuanced, and it was partly this that triggered the uncertainty over the ending. I liked No One Gets Out Alive very much.
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