No One Gets Out Alive is available to stream now via Netflix.
Ambar (Cristina Rodlo) is embarking on her American Dream after years spent dutifully tending to her terminally ill mother in Mexico. She arrives in Cleveland illegally, with very little money and unsuitable clothing for what’s expected to be the coldest winter on record. After finding cash-in-hand work at a local garment factory, she rents the cheapest room available from Red (Marc Menchaca) in a near derelict boarding house. Kept awake by the other tenants’ sobbing, disturbing nightmares and strange unearthly noises echoing from the basement, Ambar begins to wonder exactly who – or what – lives inside the house with them. Soon it becomes clear that Ambar has walked into a trap, one where she will soon be introduced to the evil that has been lurking in the basement. Ambar must fight to escape her living nightmare, but in a house where no one listens to the screams, will she ever get out alive?
Directed by Santiago Menghini, the film opens with old footage of some kind of archaeological expedition in Mexico in which a mysterious stone box is uncovered. From them on, the story centres around a young Mexican woman named Ambar Cruz (played by Cristina Rodlo) who arrives in Cleveland in pursuit of the American dream, having spent recent years caring for her terminally ill mother back home until she died. However, without official documentation, much money or many possessions, she is forced to seek accomodation in a rundown, female-only boarding house. The property is overseen by brothers Red (Marc Menchaca) and Becker (David Figlioli) and soon after Ambar’s arrival, she begins to experience disturbing cries and unsettling visions.
No One Gets Out Alive will perhaps draw comparisons to another Netflix original from last year, His House, insofar as both are horror films about immigrants arriving in a new country and their haunting experiences in a dilapidated home. Much like that film, the building here feels like a character of its own, testament to the quality of the production design, although to a lesser degree here since much of the horror is more tangible than the mental troubles found in its predecessor, from the haunting spirits that roam the corridors to the mysterious box and the secrets within.
Interestingly, the source material from which this film is adapted is actually a story hinged upon social class and based in Britain. However, the decision to move the story to the USA and adopt a focus on the immigrant experience pays off, allowing for some effective subtext on American immigration, in addition to gender and violence.
The acting performances are competent on the whole, and Rodlo in particular does enough to pull you in, although at times the dialogue can border on unnatural and is rather hit and miss. As a result, certain performances feel quite uncanny and, whether directorially intentional or not, these actually add to the unease and eeriness of the film’s tone. For instance, Becker comes across as somewhat of a caricature.
Whereas the dialogue can sometimes be ineffective, the visual language of the movie is strong. The lighting and cinematography is remarkable considering that much of the film is shot in relative darkness, enhancing the haunting and tense atmosphere. The established horror is aided by some grim practical effects and makeup work for both the human and supernatural figures, as well as the unsettling recurring presence of moths and the intriguing plot concept of the stone box.
As a film that deals directly with the figurative notion of the American dream, it interestingly constructs its narrative around literal dream (and nightmare) sequences. The editing work by Mark Towns is therefore extremely skilful, for the film demands the regular blending of dreams, nightmares and reality in a way that compels the viewer to experience the same disorientation as Ambar whilst enabling the presentation of a cohesive story and without feeling overdone or trite.
Not only did Towns edit the previous cinematic adaptation of a Nevill novel, The Ritual, but he also edited two other recent British, critically-acclaimed horror films, Saint Maud and Censor. With this knowledge to hand, it is possible to detect certain consistencies in their editing approach, although each has a distinctive feel.
Mark Korven, responsible for the scores on Robert Eggers’ horror works The Witch and The Lighthouse, here provides a more subdued soundtrack. Although less striking or world defining than the scores of those films, his work nonetheless helps to maintain the tension and terror without being overbearing or intrusive. Director Menghini also shows a great understanding of knowing exactly when to utilise its non-diegetic sound and when to allow the scene to unfold unaided in moments of silence or with specific sounds.
Indeed, the sound design is crisp, with some stellar mixing. We hear every creak, cry and scream in the central building. We feel every punch. We fear the echoes of unearthly noises that emanate from the basement, whilst one particular scene involving the sound of sobbing reverberating through the plughole of a bathtub is especially well produced.
The colour grade clearly paints a bleak picture of America, with desaturated, grey tones. There is certainly an aura of coldness not only in the frosty Cleveland air, but also in Ambar’s reception in America and in her isolation and loneliness.
The few sequences with prominent visual effects that do exist are masterfully crafted. The elongated interior of a train carriage paralleled by the impossibly deep interior of the stone box remain striking images. Perhaps most impressive is the character design and VFX execution of a certain creature that makes an appearance in the final act that is beautifully terrifying.
What should be safe and accessible spaces for women and immigrants are anything but, whether that be accommodation or the workplace. It appears that nobody can be trusted.
A film that has received relatively little attention from either the casual Netflix bingers or the most avid cinephiles, this is a film that horror fanatics should certainly give a chance. It will slot nicely alongside the recent sprout of horror genre pieces that touch on important social and political issues in unique and compelling ways, such as Get Out, Us, The Forever Purge, The Invisible Man, His House and Candyman.
Ultimately, when it stands that No One Gets Out Alive, it seems that the only options are death or living in a dead country and, when the American dream is dead, what remains can only truly be described as an eternal nightmare.
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