English horror novelist Adam Nevill’s 2011 “The Ritual” was made into an atmospheric outdoor supernatural opus four years ago by “The Night House” director David Bruckner. Now that author’s subsequent “No One Gets Out Alive” gets similar treatment — though this tale takes place almost entirely indoors — via Montreal-based VFX artist and producer Santiago Menghini’s feature directorial debut. Switching locale from the book’s Birmingham to Cleveland, the mostly Romania-shot thriller still somehow succeeds primarily in the vividness of its physical environ, an impressively decrepit boardinghouse that seems to swallow up vulnerable young women whole.
Not a slam-dunk in terms of either scariness or storytelling, this Netflix joint nonetheless should get viewers’ Halloween countdown off to a solid start with its handsome aesthetics, not to mention a notably grotesque creature design.
The pre-title fate of one young female stray (Joana Borja) assures us that tenancy is alarmingly short-lived at an imposing three-story Cleveland residence whose decor looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1930s — or been cleaned since the 1970s. Yet here is where Ambar (Cristina Rodlo of series “Too Old to Die Young” and “The Terror”) lands, for lack of other options. She’d put her life on hold for several years to care for a terminally ill mother, and now has traveled north from Mexico to start anew. But she lacks a green card, so for the time being she’s stuck working at a sweatshop-type operation. She must also find new accommodations when her first landlord demands government-issued ID for any continued stay.
The dank, once-elegant building that live-in manager Red (Marc Menchaca) claims new owners will renovate is on the creepy side. But he asks no questions, and it’s cheap, so Ambar moves in. Despite the paucity of other renters, however, she soon hears odd noises, including weeping and cries. Eventually she even sees people — ones who aren’t actually there but some kind of institutional ghost-memories. They suggest very bad things happen here, particularly in the ominously sealed-off basement. But just when Ambar grows frightened enough to flee, a co-worker absconds with the little money she’s got, and her sole local relative (David Barrera) is out of town.
This degree of crisis arrives around midpoint, leaving “No One” another 40 minutes or so to spring further surprises — which include the hitherto-obscured household dominance of Red’s unpleasant brother Becker (David Figlioli). Still, the plot feels somewhat underdeveloped, with peril evident but its cause murky. There is some hinting at imported pagan rites, and considerably more than hinting in terms of the monster and/or deity these siblings serve.
Creature designer Keith Thompson, likewise credited on “The Ritual,” does come up with something quite alarming, if perhaps more bizarre than scary. But just what that thing is, how it got here and what powers it possesses or bestows remain cloudy at best. The film apparently only makes use of the long novel’s first half, omitting what one must presume are the explanatory parts later on. In narrative terms, the end result comes off not so much deliberately cryptic as simply a bit undercooked.
Still, “No One” succeeds in meaningfully tethering the plight of the undocumented immigrant to a genre fiction, sans preachiness. (The book’s heroine is a native Brit whose starting handicaps lie more in the realm of classist and sexist exploitation.) Their characters respectively stronger and weaker than we first perceive, Rodlo and Menchaca bring engaging conviction to the only two roles with more than one dimension here. Supporting parts are all much more constrained but also deftly filled.
While some exterior footage was filmed in Cleveland, the production’s majority was shot in Bucharest. There, production designer Christopher Richmond and DP Stephen Murphy eke considerable musty ambience from interiors of attractively old-fashioned if unsanitary detailing, bathed in queasily pretty lighting hues of greenish blue.