If you like tense psychological horror that is strikingly relatable one minute, then a swirl of supernatural surrealism the next, then the latest Netflix Original, No One Gets Out Alive, is for you. That is assuming, of course, that you don't work for the Cleveland Tourism Board. This movie makes the Rust Belt city look like a real dump, and that's before otherworldly demons start killing people.
After a spooky prelude of weird archeology footage and an eerie assault on a frightened young woman, we meet our heroine, a Latin American immigrant named Ambar (Cristina Rodlo). She's got a crummy job in a questionable sweatshop and has just found lodging in a dilapidated-but-deliciously-photogenic apartment building in a shoddy part of town.
With its Art Nouveau skylight and dark wood interior, this place just needs some investment to become a trendy boutique hotel. For now, though, the owner, Red (Marc Menchaca), is content to take cash up front with no questions asked and let women only stay, with no guests after 9 p.m. If you start hearing weird sounds or having visions, though, it's nothing, absolutely nothing, and stop asking questions.
Ambar, still reeling from the death of her mother back home after a protracted illness, is in dire need of some very specific false ID papers. She has a distant cousin she hardly knows (David Barrera) who can get her a decent job, but she's lied to him and said she was born in Texas. Ambar's co-worker Kinsie (a marvelous Moronke Akinole) has a connection who can make it happen, but is asking for way more money than Ambar has, especially since she put down a month's deposit for the apartment. Taking a gamble on human kindness doesn't go so well, and asking Red for her deposit back is a similar hurdle.
No One Gets Out Alive is a strong first feature from director Santiago Menghini, whose background is in special effects. It is based on a book by British novelist Adam Neville, and is most impressive with the specifics of how someone living on the fringes can get beaten down by a multitude of tiny indignities. Rare is the movie that lingers on a taxi meter's swift climb, but when someone is broke, that's what is top of mind.
There's a good 30 minutes until we're faced with any too common horror tropes (why is there always a tape of incantation?) but things do pay off in a pretty bonkers conclusion that is gory, nerve-wracking, and cathartic.
A lot of that is due to Rodlo, whose expressions of frustration and anguish are sympathetic, and her eventual plunge into pure fear is quite gripping. There's a lot about the lore to this haunted house saga that isn't succinctly explained -- and some may consider that a detriment -- but for me it meant that, by the end, I really didn't know what the heck was going to happen yet. So when Ambar is screaming her head off in terror, I was right there with her.
There's not a lot that's upbeat in No One Gets Out Alive (I mean, the title ought to tell you that), but as a small-budget first feature, there's much here to recommend. Week-to-week there are a great deal of new horror options on the streaming services; this is one of the better ones to appear in some time.
TV Guide rating: 3.5/5
No One Gets Out Alive is now on Netflix.