The tagline “Nothing is black and white” is clever: spot-on for this story. The title also is a double, possibly triple entendre.
An interracial couple makes a Mickey and Mallory style “take the money and run” dash for the Mexican border in the South in the 1950’s. The bear trap crunching through flesh and bone in the opening announces the bloody mayhem that will follow.
“The bear trap crunching through flesh and bone in the opening announces the bloody mayhem that will follow…”
Eschewing frills like coherent plot, plausible characters, or cogent sequences of events, directors Chakwin and Guglielmo stripped their film down to 84 minutes of rapid fire episodes and twisted tropes breaking taboos and taking hard left turns at a furious pace.
A jarring spoiler mid-film makes it hard to talk about the overall movie without giving anything away. Suffice to say it’s all over the map with one shocking reveal after another, the genre morphs a few times and the film switches focus, protagonists, and influences so quickly your head will spin. Dancing nimbly through this chaotic mash-up and selling it so well makes this a new kind of movie experience.
No Way To Live is noteworthy for what it isn’t: as the tone constantly shifts plot lines are left behind in unexplored dead ends, discordant compared to established filmmaking. It’s not a film about race, though racial discrimination is part of it. It’s not a film about crime, though crimes are committed. It’s not a road movie, though much of it takes place on the road. It’s not a horror film, though it wears the mantle and styles of horror. It borrows heavily from all these tropes, but doesn’t pay any of them off in the usual ways.
“The glue that holds this audaciously brutal act of cinema together is Freya Tingley.”
This almost doesn’t work, veering dangerously close to jumping the shark into parody or downright hot-mess silliness. The filmmakers race right up to that line but they get it stopped in time. At the final scene I held my breath until the credits rolled, then exhaled and thought “Yeah. Ok.” I had been readying the flamethrower for a sincere takedown but it pleasantly surprised me. The madness all works together impressively and is fun to watch.
The glue that holds this audaciously brutal act of cinema together is Australian actress Freya Tingley playing Nora. She’s a refined mainline shot of pure adrenaline as an abused innocent with wickedly casual morals. Nora is the farmer’s daughter in your dirtiest dreams. Monty (Tom Williamson) falling for her is one element of the plot that makes regular sense.
The other performances are quality, but serve only to create the universe that rages around Nora. From her innocence when helping Monty recover from an injury to her tearful defense of an accidental murder, she’s mesmerizing.
No Way to Live is one goddamn wild ride.
No Way to Live. Written and directed By: Nick Chakwin, David Guglielmo. Starring: Freya Tingley, Tom Williamson, Paul Rae.
7 out of 10