Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo have already made a sound debut in the form of 2007’s Inside, so their second feature, Livid, is due to cause some excitement among horror
fans. The pair’s second film is an atmospheric and visually inventive take on the ‘old haunted house story’ and among other things probably one of the few films this year that will really prove how terrifying obscenely old people can be.
The story follows Lucie (Chloe Coullaud) on her first day as an in-home caregiver. Lucie’s new job takes an interesting turn with the revelation that her new patient, the comatose Mrs. Jessel, has a treasure of unknown value stashed somewhere in her desolate house. Lucie, her boyfriend William (Felix Moati), and William’s brother Ben (Jeremy Kapone), decide to break into the house on Halloween night to find the treasure and turn their fortunes around. The house has different ideas and not long after entering the trio are trapped and in the throes of a supernatural nightmare.
Maury and Bustillo understand the importance of believable characters and spend a good time at the start of the piece introducing us to their lead character Lucie and her small world. Understanding her hopes and dreams, and those of the two boys, is vital for the scare factor of the film since even though we know they are trespassing and robbing we also know that the money is a way out of their dreary world. The film is centered on the end of life, the purgatory of not just the coma state, or old-age, but of squashed dreams, so the money is ultimately an opportunity to avoid ending up like one of Lucie’s patients.
The film’s first half flaunts a good pace and enough menace to keep the viewer intrigued, the scares are kept in check and the three main characters all work off each other well. Long shots of Mrs. Jessel’s vegetative form hooked up to life support unnerve the viewer and create a surprising amount of tension which is never relinquished with a cheap jump or “eyes-flicker-open” moment. The discovery of just what the treasure is, cements the fairy tale quality and leads to a bizarre supernatural mind-screw of a second act.
Unfortunately the film loses grip on itself by the end. The escalation of scares degrades to a messy muddle pushing the film into a gory conclusion it never seemed destined for. Some of the blatant images and sequences stand out as uncomfortable in a film that, for the most part, identifies the grotesque and eerie with care and respect. The sequence where Ben suddenly ends up in a filthy room with no doors is genius but what follows in the room seems ham-fisted and unconnected. The construction of the relationships and tension is skillful, but the set-up is squandered through hasty conclusions to characters and a half-assed attempt at bonus themes.
Eventually the film comes across as something between Guillermo Del Toro’s dark fairy tale world and Iain Softley’s The Skeleton Key (2005); it pushes for a strong gothic element that comes flawlessly until the film aims big. If it had followed certain routes from earlier on it could have cemented itself as a particular type of horror, but it seems wary of being lost in a sub-genre. Still, it’s a charming and striking horror with more than its fair share of unsettling ideas and beautiful images.
Director: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Stars: Chloe Coulloud, Catherine Jacob, Felix Moati, Jeremy Kapone, Beatrice Dalle