Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(French with English subtitles)
Directed by: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Written by: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Starring: Chloe Coulloud, Jeremy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Felix Moati, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Chloe Marcq & Beatrice Dalle
Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are a pair of filmmakers who burst onto the horror scene with their terrifying home-invasion flick INSIDE. That gory tour-de-force of a slasher film floored audiences and has since gotten an appropriately notorious reputation around it. Bustillo and Maury followed that movie up with LIVID, which premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and has gathered dust on the Weinstein Company’s shelf ever since. Supposedly, there is an English-language remake in the works. So while this movie has been released in other countries (including the UK, where I imported a Region 2 copy from), American horror fans have been impatiently twiddling their thumbs. This is a pretty screwed up and frustrating scenario. While I do want this movie to see the light of day in the US as it should (and eventually will), I’m not exactly opposed to a remake of LIVID. This fantasy-horror film plays out like a Guillermo Del Toro dark fairy tale in the vein of Dario Argento. However, it gets too ambitious for its own good and lacks a fully developed script.
Lucy is a young caregiver and has just completed her first day on the job. One patient sticks out from her first shift. That patient is Madame Jessel, a feeble comatose woman hooked on life support in her massive, isolated mansion. Rumor has it that a valuable treasure lies within the walls of Jessel’s vast estate. Overcome with the possibility of untold riches, Lucy and her two friends break into the spooky mansion on Halloween night…only to discover that the comatose patient may not be the house’s only occupant. The trio soon find themselves locked in the massive, creepy home and dealing with blood-thirsty forces they never could have imagined.
LIVID is an extremely well-shot and well-scored film. There’s atmosphere coming out the wazoo. This movie captures the eerie, magical feeling that only Halloween can provide. Though INSIDE was also a very well-shot and constructed movie, LIVID has it beat in its visuals. There’s grotesque beauty in every corner. The mansion becomes a suffocating location, despite being three or four stories tall. The soundtrack is also excellent, capturing a sense of wonder and creepiness. This music reminded me a lot of the soundtrack from CORALINE, which has a similar atmosphere (even if it’s technically a more kid-friendly film). It’s in the story and pacing that LIVID shows its flaws. There are lots of fantastic, intriguing ideas that play out like the rough draft of a far better, more accomplished script.
Lucy, played by the relatively unknown Chloe Coulloud, is the only character who feels remotely fleshed out. As our protagonist, she’s a sympathetic person and I found myself rooting for her, in spite of her stupid mistakes. Her two asshole friends are not nearly carved out to the degree she is. These two felt like your average, everyday slasher victims. Seeing as that’s the case, they are unsympathetic idiots who make really stupid clichéd decisions along the way. Finally, there’s Beatrice Dalle (who served as the terrifying antagonist in INSIDE) in a dual role. She plays both the elderly Jessel (under layers of make-up) and Lucy’s deceased mother (in two unneeded hallucinations). In the first role, Dalle is appropriately menacing. In the second, she feels unneeded. Not all of these characters live to see the light of day and sadly, the kills are nothing spectacular.
The script for LIVID certainly has a number of interesting ideas, but the problem is that these don’t flow well together. This story starts off like a haunted house movie and turns into something else entirely before becoming a sort of morbid fairy tale. The pacing doesn’t help matters either as it takes 30 minutes for the characters to actually get trapped inside the mansion. That opening third isn’t particularly interesting or entertaining when Lucy’s two friends enter the picture. The story becomes increasingly over-the-top and silly as it reaches an anti-climactic conclusion that I could see coming off as unintentionally funny to a number of people. There’s a difference between nightmare logic and lazy screenwriting. This felt very much like the latter.
LIVID marks one of the few times that I’m actually hoping for an American remake to improve on the foreign predecessor. The soundtrack, atmosphere and visuals are all great. So much so, that I wish they had been placed in a far better film. Aside from Lucy, no attempt is made to flesh these characters out, especially the underdeveloped villains (who only get two brief flashbacks that come off as cheesy and convoluted). LIVID could greatly benefit from a remake and hopefully will. I’m sure this film will receive an official US release at some point (probably as a bonus disc on the eventual remake’s home video release), but don’t get your hopes up before you sit through it. There are beautiful visuals and a haunting soundtrack, but not much else to make it worthwhile.