French directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are already well known names in horror circles. Their first film, Inside from 2007, is thought of by many horror fans to be the best example of the genre released in the last few years. It is after all a film which retains the power to shock when so many other directors are content to rely on cheap jump scares and the increasingly tired found footage format.
Their follow-up Livid is different enough to show that Bustillo and Maury are no one trick ponies and have a great deal of talent to back up the hype. If there is any justice Livid should be the film to break them out to a wider audience.
The plot of the film begins with a young nurse by the name of Lucie (Chloe Coulloud) beginning her training as an in home care giver with the outspoken Catherine (Catherine Wilson). Whilst on their rounds they go to the home of an elderly lady named Mrs Jessel who is in a coma on an oxygen machine which is keeping her alive. Here we learn of the urban legend that this lady has a fortune hidden somewhere in her labyrinthine home.
Straight away during this opening thirty minutes we know that something is off as the camera lingers on missing children’s pictures and stuffed animals and the ominous score by Raphael Gesqua creates a palpable sense of dread. At the end of the day Lucie reunites with her fisherman boyfriend William (Felix Moati) and his dim-witted brother Ben (Jeremy Kapone) and William becomes intrigued by the possibility of hidden riches in the house. Wanting to escape their humdrum lives they decide to break in and search for the treasure. Trouble is things are not quite as they seem in Mrs Jessel’s house and what is really hidden are awful and dark secrets.
Whereas Inside was a simple home invasion horror with a minimum of character development, Livid has tons of character building done in a relatively small amount of time. A simple scene of a conversation with her father and a vision of her dead mother tells us all we need to know about Lucie. William’s introduction and subsequent monologue about his existence is also brief but brilliantly informative. What many horror filmmakers forget, which is crucial, is to make their characters likeable and here the set up and introduction means that when the three central characters creep into that dark house you are right there with them.
Another great thing about Livid is the fact that it manages to be the scariest film for ages and yet doesn’t have one telegraphed jump scare. The film relies on atmosphere, some brilliant production design and pacing to truly creep you out. There are some wonderfully surreal and tense moments as we walk around the dark shadowy mansion, half the time you expect the jump scare to be on its way but it never pays off, leaving you with a feeling of unease that remains long after the finale.
Livid is a derivative film, it has elements of Silent Hill, House on Haunted Hill and Guillermo Del Toro’s fondness for clockwork fairy-tale weirdness. Yet somehow the refusal to bow to the norms and conventions of the genre means that the film feels absolutely fresh. There are no easy answers come the finale of the film, a great deal of information is thrown at the viewer without talking down to the audience and the last twenty minutes are wonderfully surreal and visually stunning, asking the viewer to draw their own conclusions and trusting that the viewer is savvy enough to digest the information given and not reject it outright.
Intelligent, provocative and most importantly scary horror is in short supply these days and Livid is very nearly a masterpiece and therefore should be seen by as many as possible before the remake comes along next year and dilutes all of the uniqueness of the original.