Livid. 2011. Directed/Written by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury.
Starring Chloé Coulloud, Félix Moati, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Béatrice Dalle, Chloé Marcq, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, & Sabine Londault.
La Fabrique/SND Films/La Ferme! Productions.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
As part of what’s deemed the New French Extremity, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have kept working in a macabre world since their debut in 2007, Inside. What they do so well with Livid is cross a bit of crime into horror, before finally descending into dark fantasy. The characters take us inside a Gothic mansion, where reality’s been keep at bay a long time, and something evil lurks.
Honestly, when the characters lay siege quietly to the house of a comatose rich woman, it gave me a similar feel to when Belle sneaks around into the forbidden wing of the Beast’s castle. Only Bustillo and Maury’s castle is filled with far more gruesome treats. Here there is no romance, perhaps only romantic ideas – if not horribly twisted, as well. There are only the eerie images of a decaying, destroyed family with a spooky secret. Horror can be very effective when it makes the unlikely horrific, and that’s often one of Livid‘s best features.
There are some flaws to the writing as the script wears on. Things feel rushed, messy in the end. Although I do enjoy the finale, it doesn’t feel as properly executed as everything before it. One of the few large flaws. Other than that, a few other moments ring slightly false, but aside from these I dig the writing. Because the dark fantasy/horror aspects of the plot are grim. In the best way we could hope. The unlikely terror comes in the form of creepy little ballet dancers, their skin pale and cracking. Some of the first, scariest bits of the movie for me are when these young, undead girls – like toys in a shop – come alive to murder one of the unknowing, would-be friends hoping to commit a robbery. Instead two thirds of them are murdered by the hidden family in the old woman’s mansion.
Better than the writing is the atmosphere and the set design, the costumes, the makeup. These are elements Bustillo and Maury get spot on, bringing a team of more than capable artists with them to accomplish their goals. The dark fantasy portion of the story is like a Gothic tale set in modern times. Outside, the world is contemporary. Within the walls of the mansion it is an entirely other landscape filled with dreary, lavish rooms, and a living set of wind-up toys. The way it all looks physically is astonishing, the cinematography only makes everything look better; a rich, dark tone is set by the way everything is shot.
Blood, blood, blood! While the movie isn’t loaded down, any fan of practical special effects will drool over a few of the horrible wounds the filmmakers put on film. Even just the makeup is rave-worthy. Such as the old woman, after all has been revealed; the way they make her look is akin to a bloodsucking mummy rising from the grave, equipped for some time with a clinical-looking gas mask to make it appear more ominous. But there are definitely a couple scenes with all out gore, as a few throats are slit. One favourite moment is when one of the intruders finds his friend return, a burlap sack on his head and blood seeping through: underneath, his head is nearly cut off, and it bounces on top of a sloppy, cut open neck that’s bleeding profusely. A hard, shocking bit of violence that works wonders.
Truthfully, the few pieces of homage are what I enjoyed most because instead of trying to homage full scenes, events, kills (et cetera) of movies they admire, Bustillo and Maury opt to toss in a couple almost throwaway references. Only keen, diligent horror fans will recognise them. There’s a nice John Landis homage to The Slaughtered Lamb from his film An American Werewolf in London when the three hopeful robbers meet at a French pub named L’agneau abattu. A little later they encounter three children with masks reminiscent of those in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and one of the friends even sings the tune “Happy, Happy Halloween – Silver Shamrock!” And the best is that the old woman, later discovered to have been a ballet dancer and instructor, learned dance at Der Tanz Akademie, the same school featured in Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria. A few great influences that are shown through neat homage in the writing, rather than any scenes or kills being recreated.
Lots of macabre goodness in this one. Perfect to throw on near Halloween, when the leaves are all gone, the night is long, and nobody’s around. When everything’s quiet. Livid touches on these dark fantasy and horror elements, but also works on the idea of motherhood, the female lead having to deal with this woman being a horrorshow of a mom while having lost her own tragically. So there isn’t only a supernatural-type plot involving everything from home invasion to vampirism, you can enjoy plenty of different things in the screenplay. Bustillo and Maury prove they’re willing to try something else other than the pre-approved Hollywood style of horror. Which is why I hope their outing into Leatherface territory is going to be something atypical from what we’ve seen since the original first two films. Who knows. I do know that this movie is a whopper of a horror, with its own world inside. Its imagery, the sounds, the atmosphere and tone; even with a wonky finale, Livid holds the goods.
Dive in. Turn off the lights. See what happens.