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NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE (2021): a worthy spook-fest for the Halloween season

Poster for No One Gets Out Alive

Four years ago, Netflix struck gold with The Ritual, a stunning slice of folk/backwoods horror with a dark emotional thread based on Aaron Nevill’s novel of the same name. Now the streaming giant has dipped back into the same well with another Nevill adaptation, the dark and deceptive No One Gets Out Alive, from director Santiago Menghini.

Ambar (Cristina Rodlo) is an undocumented Mexican migrant who arrives in Cleveland in the back of a truck, looking for a new start after her mother's death. She emerges into a dark, wintry city and finds accommodation in an old boarding house run by the benevolent Red (Mark Menchaca) and his menacing but little-seen brother Becker (David Figlioli).

Right away, we know something is off. There are padlocked doors, a strictly out-of-bounds cellar and another guest who behaves erratically. From there, the sinister goings-on begin to escalate—from the sudden disappearance of other occupants, Red’s increasingly shifty behaviour and the glowing-eyed spectres that stalk the hallways. To reveal any more would give away the destination the film arrives at, which is a far cry from the standard haunted house template the story plays in; suffice it to say that the film expands on Mexican mythology of a supernatural origin, and is a welcome cultural shift from the British-set novel.

Haunted house movies need a good reason for the occupiers of the said house not to get the fuck out of dodge after the first ghost sighting, but No One cleverly sidesteps that obstacle with Ambar’s plight. She has nowhere else to go—even a well-off relative can only do so much for her—and her sewing job in a factory is a precarious one at best. She can’t afford to leave, and when she finally does, money problems force her back into the boarding house, where the spirits and even more sinister forces await her.

Cristina Rodlo is excellent as Ambar; a young woman determined to make a new life for herself after foregoing study to care for her ailing mother. She conveys the burden of Ambar’s hardships, supernatural or otherwise, as well as endearing us to her. Mark Menchaca was last seen as the transformed cop on HBO’s The Outsider show, and here he gets to add some more shades to his range with the seemingly friendly but slightly creepy landlord.

The production design of the gloomy boarding house is stylishly grimy and a perfect location for a ghost story, especially given the transient and unknown nature of the space and its residents. The winter setting also adds considerably to the bleak mood, with Ambar trudging down darkened, snowy alleyways to and from work. The film builds to a satisfyingly freakish finale which steps back into The Ruins territory, only marred slightly by some less impressive visual FX.

Recently, there has been a rise of horror stories examining the migrant experience, such as the excellent His House from last year. While not as emotionally affecting as that film, it’s refreshing and essential to see other viewpoints and experiences being championed by a big streamer such as Netflix. No One Gets Out Alive is an enjoyable mix of darker genre elements that, while not reaching the heights of The Ritual, is a worthy spook-fest for the Halloween season.

4 snapped ankles out of 5.

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