No One Gets Out Alive

No One Gets Out Alive ★★½

Somewhere deep inside Santiago Menghini’s debut feature “No One Gets Out Alive” is commentary about how undocumented immigrants remain to be treated worse than cattle in the United States—an important and timely subject—but it is composed mostly of uninspired writing and storytelling decisions which build up to an experience that drags rather than one that inspires empathy or action that may lead up to changes long overdue. It is based upon the novel by Adam Nevill, but screenwriters Jon Croker and Fernanda Coppel ought to have ensured that the material is effective as a horror film first and foremost then a statement about our society’s inhumanity second.

Our protagonist is named Ambar who moves from Mexico to the U.S. following the death of her mother. Early on, she admits that the first thing she felt upon learning her mother’s passing is relief; Ambar can finally move on with her life. Although the character is played by the expressive Cristina Rodlo, the script comes across as hesitant to dig deeply into its subject—ashamed that we might conclude we do not like her rather than leaving it up to us to wade through her many complexities. Instead, the heroine takes a backseat: things happen to her and around her yet we do not relate in meaningful ways to her struggles. It should not be this way especially if the point is to paint a picture of an immigrant experience through the guise of a horror story.

Its idea of scares is one-dimensional: flickering lights, bugs, a stormy might, ghostly figures in the background, and a whole lot of redundant hallucinations and nightmares. The charade gets tiresome real quick. Eventually, the audience is conditioned to wonder whether an occurrence is in fact real or just another dream rather than being inspired to ruminate what it is about an event that is being said or explored. I wondered about Ambar and her friendship at work. Kinsi (Moronke Akinola) is not only a fellow immigrant but she, too, has financial problems. How else are they the same or different outside of the color of their skins, their cultures, their ideas of the “American Dream”?

There is a mysterious item in the middle of this dour story: a stone box with ancient writings etched around it. It appears to be of Mayan origin. Aside from the opening seconds and some photographs in the study of the dilapidated apartment where Ambar rents, the movie fails to enlighten us about this artifact. We see what it can do, but it offers no intrigue despite its amazing power. More importantly, how does the nature of this box relate to the story’s overarching themes? Yes, it is in the hands of white men (Marc Menchaca—whose talent is completely wasted here—and David Figlioli), but white men don’t need a special item to have privilege and/or power. Being born a white man in America is power in and of itself. At times I found the screenwriters to be thoroughly confused in regard to what it was they wished to convey.

The screenplay might have benefited greatly from another round of revision. While its intention is good, it mustn’t be afraid to take Ambar so that those who do not look like her, think like her, or speak like her will embrace her completely anyway. For this to occur in a most convincing fashion, the story must constantly be ahead of the audience—entertaining to a fault—as to prevent the viewer from reverting to Us versus Them mentality. It goes to show how tricky it is to effectively execute a horror film with something to say about our contemporary society.

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