Film technology keeps getting cheaper and cheaper, and more and more people crank out more and more movies every day. A lot of these are takes on familiar tropes, and “kids in the woods with a killer” is a highly popular one since it only requires a few things: “kids,” woods, some fake blood. It’s such a well-established type of story that pretty much anybody could make it into a film, and a lot of first-time filmmakers do just that. The problem is making this kind of film and doing something actually interesting with it. We are now in a post-Cabin in the Woods horror film landscape. If you’re going to make a “kids in the woods” movie, you’d better have a hell of a hook to make it stand out from all the others.
Which brings us, conveniently, to Nobody Gets Out Alive. This is a film in which a bunch of “teenagers” go into the woods to party and get killed. There are two bros, three girls, and one weird guy who everyone hates who stands in for the “nerdy guy” type who always (inexplicably) tags along for these kinds of weekends. This is all very familiar territory. What makes Nobody Gets Out Alive interesting for its first half is the fact that it feels like a computer was fed parameters for making a horror movie– character types, story beats, etc.– and then given basic rules of speech and grammar, which it then used to spit out the film’s screenplay. Our heroine is a young girl named Jenn (Jen Dance) who, as the film opens, is being released after an extended stay in the hospital for some undisclosed illness; this scene serves no purpose other than to give Clint Howard a few lines as her doctor. Jenn’s parents bring her home and immediately demand that she get out of the house and spend time with her friends so she doesn’t become an agoraphobic. This does not follow, say, a montage of Jenn hanging out, isolated in her room and lonely. It is established in the dialogue that Jenn is literally brought home from the hospital and her parents force her to go on a camping trip with her friends the same day.
Thus the film starts with its characters already behaving completely unlike human beings. Every conversation in the film sounds like the randomly generated dialogue between non-player characters in a Grand Theft Auto game. One person talks, the next person responds with something that may or may not be related, repeat. The word “retarded” gets trotted out repeatedly. For quite a good chunk of time, it really seems like Nobody Gets Out Alive may be some sort of performance art prank or a particularly weird satire of slasher films. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Once the “teenagers” start getting knocked off, Nobody Gets Out Alive turns into another mean-spirited slasher and settles into depressingly comfortable formula very quickly: People run around dark woods, people get killed, repeat until inevitable rote “surprise” ending.
The old “kids in the woods” trope can still be an interesting place to start for a film. There are any number of small films that take this concept and do something really interesting with it– Wilderness Survival for Girls always comes to mind when discussing this– but it is no longer worthwhile to just go through the same motions from countless other slasher films and expect the horror audience to accept it. People can always just go back and watch Friday the 13th again. Is it possible to make a genuinely good slasher film by “going back to basics?” Almost certainly. But Nobody Gets Out Alive isn’t the best argument for it. It may have been a good exercise for its filmmakers to learn the filmmaking process and how to do effective practical effects on a budget, but there’s no real reason for anyone else to watch it.
Image Entertainment released Nobody Gets Out Alive on DVD on 26 February 2013. Special features include a commentary track and behind the scenes featurette.