Among the Living is the latest film from Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the French duo who first made a name for themselves with the shocking home invasion film Inside. Their new film follows a trio of school-skipping boys who, whilst on a cross-country adventure, stumble across an abandoned film studio. At the studio, they become the next targets of a father and son who kidnap young women seemingly to complete their evil family.
One of the most irritating things about Among the Living is it doesn’t have a consistent message, bookending its narrative with segments that set-up and close an unfulfilled story. The opening is superb, reuniting the directors with Beatrice Dalle, here playing a pregnant woman who flips and attempts to kill her young son after attacking her husband. The scene is perfect Maury and Bustillo, a slasher origin story and part-thematic sequel (or prequel) to Dalle’s immense performance in Inside. The experience of watching Dalle feverishly slash at a child, from the child’s point of view, is unsettling to say the least, and one of the few impressive moments.
The first third is perfect set-up for a New Wave Extreme Stand By Me, one that pits a trio of kids against an eerie killer in a filthy clown mask. Only, after boldly deciding to send three children into a decrepit amusement park, the film falters moving the action to the kids’ houses where the film becomes a series of home-invasion thrills. It’s difficult to pull off violence towards kids nowadays without seeming dated, Jon Watts Clown and Cop Car aren’t scared of brutalising children, putting the audience in a position where we worryingly don’t know what to expect. Maury and Bustillo, hardly shy when it comes to taboo violence, dip their toes in the pool of kiddy violence, but Among the Living is an ultimately timid film in the fact it doesn’t follow through on its promises. It seems that Maury and Bustillo have fallen victim to a problem many of the French New Wave Extremity directors have: their earliest films were just too bold.
Xavier Gens (Frontier(s)) and Alexandre Aja (Switchblade Romance) knew they couldn’t make a career out of shock and nihilism, so they merged their stark ballsy style with western projects, bringing edge to studio productions like Gens’ Hitman adaptation and Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes remake. The downside was that die-hard shock fans saw the new face of terror retreating into the sunset. Even Martyrs director Pascal Laugier switched tracks for French/Canadian thriller The Tall Man, though his project arguably translated better.
We spend much of Among the Living waiting to see what the killer looks like, to understand Dalle’s attack, but also to answer a mystery built up through purposeful dramatic veiling. The eventual reveal that he is basically albino seems out-dated and almost laughable, even if some of the things he does are certainly not. The more interesting idea would have been to either make him look genuinely terrifying or leave him totally “normal” to further expand Maury and Bustillo’s interests in parenthood and its possible side-effects. As I said earlier, the film is bookended by a narrative thread ditched by the larger portion of the film, leaving its ending an undeserved explanation. Among the Living attempts to explore the kind of relationships a murderous family might have, but only really in those first and last minutes, the rest is a thrill-venture minus the thrill.
The problem is that Inside was such a bizarre mix of things, a gory home invasion shocker with a pretty dark sense of humour. Livid is a middling film, impatient to be a deeper more enigmatic film than Inside, but lacking the blatant hand-to-mouth pace. Among the Living is a more disjointed slasher than Inside is, but not as a dreamy as Livid, the result is a mixed bag of ideas that doesn’t really land its punches or successfully tie up its ends.
Among the Living shows great promise in its shocking opening and introductory ideas but quickly loses its edge and focus.
Dir. Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo
Stars. Ann Marivin, Francis Renaud, Theo Fernandez, Zacharie Chasseriaud, Fabien Jegoudez, Beatrice Dalle