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Festival of Fear: No One Lives

By  · Published on October 14th, 2016

Junkfood Cinema

The world seems so much safer from the other side of the table.

Over at the Junkfood Cinema podcast, our love for film runs so deep that we tend to gravitate not only to certain genres, but further inward toward certain subgenres as well. In fact, we often find ourselves gravitating toward subsets of conventions housed within those subgenres; burrowing into the molten core of genre itself. This contemplation is enough to cross and then uncross one’s eyes repeatedly.

One such favored convention within our favorite subgenre is a group of bad folks who participate in a villainous act only to find they have tangled with someone far worse than themselves and pay dearly for their assumption of being atop the food chain. We discussed a movie centered around this conceit, Don’t Breathe, for one of our patron-exclusive bonus episodes. It makes for an interesting turn-of-the-tables wherein the relationship between predator and prey is reversed. It also intensifies the already present schadenfreude that is inherent in horror in the first place.

But it does something more than that. The idea of frightening people hoisted upon their own petard by choosing the wrong victim is an escapist antidote to the chaotic nature of violence in the real world.

In normal slasher/supernatural horror scenarios, heinous things tend to happen to good people whose punishments grossly exceed their crimes. Typically these characters pay a blood debt for transgressions as minor as pre-marital sex, buying the wrong trinket at a mysterious shop, or having the audacity to seek home ownership. This disparity between infraction and consequence would be comical, if not for the fact that it reminds us of the cruel randomness of violence in our off-screen world; wherein daily innocent people meet senseless, brutal, and unjust ends.

By turning the tables on murderous backwoods families, home invaders, or masked slashers, these horror films force predators to throw chips on the table and suffer the same chance of demise as their prey. The game is no longer rigged in their favor and there is a certain vicarious sense of justice in that leveled playing field. When we watch movies featuring this bloody change-up, we allow ourselves to be distracted by the fleeting notion that maybe there is some semblance of order to the distribution of violence in the world.

Make no mistake, Luke Evans in No One Lives, this week’s main episode topic, is not a likable character. He is a psychopath who kidnaps and brainwashes women, and can dispatch folks as ably with a clipboard as he can a shotgun. But when like a hot chainsaw through butter, he tears through a gang of murderous criminals whose usual occupation is to prey upon innocent families, we can’t help but feel a little less at the mercy of callous fortune in our own lives. It’s not only the good who die too soon…no one lives.

As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to a weekly bonus episodes covering an additional cult movie, a new movie in theaters, or a mailbag episode devoted to your submitted questions! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.