French fantasy horror film ?Livide? by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury is out now on DVD (titled ?Livid? in the UK) in a fanfare of positive reviews. But does it live up to its reputation as an original, scary modern horror?
The horror film world is in a bit of a muddle of styles right now, with everything from torture porn and splatter-fests, to hack n slash and old-school ghost thrillers being churned out. In a way it is a high time for horror fans, with no one style or theme dominating. One style that has benefitted from this egalitarian scattershot approach has been the traditional ghost thriller, the less-gore-more-chills variety of film-making, and Livid very almost nearly falls in to this category.
The film tells the story of a young woman who is training to be a visiting care worker in a French coastal town. She is taken on her first route by a middle-aged woman who is world-weary but wry. She learns that most patients are unable to care for themselves, many don?t speak and some are bed ridden. Finally, they reach a decrepit old mansion way out in the marshes, where she discovers the comatose lady of the house. We learn that it is rumoured the old lady has stashed a hoard of treasure somewhere in the mansion, but no one has ever found it. Talking with her boyfriend and his brother later that evening, the three decide to break in and steal the treasure, thus leading them to a promised life far away from the humdrum existence they currently have. And so they break in, and there begins a series of increasingly tense and creepy room explorations, which finally lead to them encountering the terror within.
As a slice of traditional style old school thriller, Livid works pretty well for about two thirds of its running time. There is a slow-burn build up for the first third, while we learn about the girl, the older woman, the house and the comatose old lady, along with some hints of a child-abduction sub-plot and just enough time to truly dislike the two male leads (such annoying and hateful characters!) When we finally get to the house and start the film proper it takes the directors a while to find their feet. While the soundtrack is superbly jittery and creepy, building tension and atmosphere, the house itself is a little lacking in creeping dread. Although, that said, the lead?s no nonsense approach to breaking and entering and getting the job done is refreshing and modern. But this is undermined by occasional ?There?s something wrong with this place? style comments. Oh dear, foreshadowing of the very bluntest kind!
Finally the film hits the on switch and apparently takes a 90 degree turn away from ghostly chills to creature feature with added violence. The sudden and jarring death scenes are fun and one has the air of originality to it?but the jerk away from creepiness to gore is a jar and feels strangely disjointed. Not disjointed enough to be a work of genius misdirection, just an annoying add-on to please the gore-hounds. The film then becomes something even more bizarre, which I won?t spoil for you, but which is both genuinely interesting to watch yet also head-scratchingly left-of-field. The leading lady (Chloe Colloud) does a good job with some low-tech body horror and with a sudden change of character trait. Which all leads us to the conclusion, a mixture of chase scene, monster-caper, Victorian gothic romance and classic gore. The film ends on a very odd note of redemption and rebirth, but leaves a heck of a lot of questions unanswered.
So?good, bad or ugly? For me Livid doesn?t live up to the hype. There is nothing much original here, no surrealist flights of fancy or amazing feats of storytelling prowess. What we have is a fairly typical slice of modern horror, a hotchpotch of styles and genres held together by a watchable lead actress and a desire to see where the plot is heading. The location is interesting but not in any way required (unlike the house in The Woman in Black), and the male leads are utterly redundant except as gore-fodder. By the end I found myself questioning exactly what it was the film-makers were trying to say with the movie, as it clearly IS trying to say something, just not very coherently. That said, this is not a bad film. It has some beautiful cinematography and superb sound, the choice of actors is strong, and the central horror conceit, while not entirely original, is unusual and would bear the weight of further investigation. The long set-up could do with some trimming down, and the ending could do with less faux-Gothic leanings, but Livid will certainly entertain horror fans who like a bit of variety in their diet. If you are a gore-hound or a traditional ghost story fan, Livid isn?t for you, but may hold your interest.
The DVD comes with a pretty dull behind-the-scenes featurette and some cast interviews, plus a trailer. It is in French with well-produced English subtitles.
All in all, Livid disappointed but not so much that I would damn the film. It is a worthy effort at trying something new, but falls for a few too many obvious clich?s and the film-makers have overly indulged themselves with mixing styles. That said, it succeeds in telling an old story in a new way, and there are enough unexpected twists to keep you guessing. I give it a solid 6.5 out of 10.