Horror is one of the most malleable genres out there. Because it can take some of the biggest burning issues, exaggerate it to kingdom come, pepper it with the most bizarre scares, and still manage to get its message across without anybody batting an eye. For example, His House (2020) is a haunted house flick on the surface. But it’s also about survivor’s guilt. Impetigore (2019) is apparently about a haunted village. And it’s also about generational sins and how one cannot escape them. Midsommar (2019) is mostly a story about a “vacation gone wrong”. However, it also talks about toxic relationships and finding refuge in archaic customs. Similarly, No One Gets Out Alive (2021) is a standard creature feature with some haunted house elements as well as a fiery commentary on the exploitation of immigrants in North America.

The Santiago Menghini film opens with a girl, who is apparently an immigrant, talking to one of her family members to check if she can come back home. But that conversation is cut short by the ghosts living in the haunted rental, thereby giving us a clear hint that things are not normal at all. Then the focus shifts to Ambar (Cristina Rodlo), an illegal immigrant, as she enters Cleveland to search for a house, a job, and an official ID that can prove she is actually from Texas before the interview her uncle Beto (David Barrera) has set up. Of course, she finds her first home in that very rental that was shown in the opening scene. And of course, things seem pretty basic, barring the occasional creaks and flickering lights, with its landlord Red (Marc Menchaca) seeming very accommodating. However, as Ambar’s interview date comes closer and she begins to get more and more desperate for that ID, the rental reveals its true face.

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A surface-level reading of Adam Nevill’s book and Fernando Coppel and Jon Croker’s screenplay shows that the writers have taken a story that was just about class divide and the horrors of trying to live alone and effectively turned it into a commentary on racism and the exploitation of immigrants. Ambar’s initial positive attitude about everything is heartbreaking because we know what is going to happen. We have seen the opening. We can hope that it’s going to end differently. But there’s little to no chance that she’s not going to have some kind of traumatic experience. It’s mentioned pretty explicitly in the title. And if you are an immigrant or a migrant or just someone who has moved from a small town to a big city, you know that the privileged class treats everyone who isn’t them with a pretty consistent level of harshness. On top of that, the present-day normalization of generational privilege has only empowered them to do whatever they want to do to ensure that they maintain their place in the food chain.

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The commentary gets complex when it delves into how the urge to stay afloat and find one’s own footing turns immigrants against each other. “Divide and rule” is a thing of the past. It has been upgraded to “make people desperate and watch them eat each other out now”. Is it unfair? Yes. Is it sad? Yes. Does it happen on a regular basis? Yes. Why aren’t there more rules and regulations to ensure that immigrants aren’t exploited? Because the ones who make the said rules and regulations look just like the ones who are doing all the exploitation. And that brings us to the point where we must talk about how the commentary on the perils of immigration goes from being complex to being straight-up muddy. It will be a little spoiler-y. So, if you want to go into No One Gets Out Alive without any knowledge about the narrative, just skip the next paragraph. If you are okay with some spoilers, please, continue reading because it’s important.

There’s no doubt that someone from the Latinx or Latino community can give a better answer to the question: is that ending problematic? And you should seek out Latino or Latinx critics who are talking about No One Gets Out Alive. But hear me out as well. There’s a moment in the movie where the torture being inflicted upon Ambar subtly states that “You know what you have walked into. Then, why are you complaining?”. The intention here is to show White privilege and the plight of immigrants. There’s no doubt about that. In addition to that, it seems that Menghini, along with his writers, wants to show the oppression that has been going on for generations and why it’s necessary to break the hierarchy. However, the visceral twists and turns do not spark inspiration. It bathes you in this deep dark feeling about how draining the whole ordeal of living in North America is and, going by the ambiguous conclusion of Ambar’s arc, it warns us that the process might turn us into the very oppressors who we are seeking to uproot?

So, you see why that’s incredibly complicated?

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That said, please don’t let it take away from No One Gets Out Alive’s incredible direction, which is suspenseful as hell. Chris Richmond’s production design, Iulian Bostanaru, Anca Perja, and Jim Warren’s art direction, and Stephen Murphy’s cinematography creates an atmosphere that just reeks of trauma and sadness. Mark Korven’s score keeps you on the edge, without resorting to traditional jump scare-esque music. Mark Towns’s pitch-perfect editing, especially during one scene involving a subway train, is nightmare-inducing. The VFX and SFX team definitely deserves a bunch of awards for designing one of the scariest creatures your eyes have probably seen. You’ll think that you have an idea of what it’s going to look and act like. But once you actually see it, your jaw is definitely going to hit the floor and you are going to run in the opposite direction every time you see a stray stone box. However, what is all that worth without the brilliant performances from the actors?

NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE. Cristina Rodlo as Ambar, Victoria Alcock as Mary, in NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix

It’s pretty cliched to say that Cristina Rodlo’s Ambar is natural. But that’s still a compliment. Rodlo aptly channels the vulnerability that an outsider, especially an immigrant, feels while trying to tackle the unnecessarily weird mechanics of a city, which in this case happens to be an American one. The flashbacks or hallucinations with her mother are simply heartbreaking, each one being sadder than its predecessor. Her bond with Kinsi (Moronke Akinola) seems tangible. That’s why the subversion, albeit obvious, hits on a personal level. Marc portrays Red as a very approachable person. Then he peels back the layers with his appropriation of Spanish words and the general spinelessness. David manages to make an impression in his short screen time as Beto, thereby making his (fake) return all the more elating. And then there’s David Figlioli’s Becker. Everything from his physicality to his voice is scarier than a fictional ghoul or a demon. He’s probably a very nice guy in real life. However, after watching him in No One Gets Out Alive, if he sees people avoiding him, he’ll have nothing but his menacing performance to blame for it.

In conclusion, No One Gets Out Alive beautifully manages to balance its share of scares and social commentary, while treading some problematic grounds about the fate of immigrants in this world. Its brooding ambiance, crafted by the cinematography, sound design, score, production design, direction, and subject matter, will suck you in instantly. And you won’t realize that you’ve been holding your breath throughout its runtime until the movie reaches its cathartic (but kind of bittersweet) end. Its star cast delivers in spades, with Cristina Rodlo clearly being the highlight. In addition to all that, it has a creature up its sleeve that you will hope you never encounter, especially during your darkest hour.

No One Gets Out Alive is now streaming on Netflix


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