I think we all enjoy a solid horror movie at times. No matter how fainthearted you may be, no matter how much you may be afraid of the imaginary boogeymen hiding in your closet, there’s something exhilarating about sitting in the comfort of a cinema and vicariously experiencing every ounce of pulse-pounding terror our onscreen protagonists are forced to endure. This addictive feeling is the very reason horror movie aficionados such as myself love the genre so dearly, however in recent years a radical transition has occurred. Hollywood, fixated on remakes, sequels and just plain unoriginal ideas has ceased to be relevant in the world of horror. Instead any true fan needs only to shift their gaze towards the overseas market for a true fix of fear. France in particular has experienced something of an extreme genre revival, in the process producing a great deal of disturbing products to haunt your dreams. Amongst this distressing crop was a particular film that stood head and shoulders above the rest in terms of the sick atrocities put on display. That movie was Inside. Now four years on since that stomach-churning debut, filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julen Maury have returned with another dose of extreme horror. Only this time inexplicable strangeness takes precedence over extreme gore.
Livid can best be described as a horrific fairy tale laced with conventional horror movie traits, but accurate as it may be, such a description barely prepares oneself for the oddly beautiful circus that is Livid. Recruited as an in-house caregiver, young Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) meets a variety of strange and unusual patients on her first day on the job, none of whom stand out more than the comatose Mrs Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla). Presented with the information that deep within the confines of Mrs Jessel’s sprawling mansion lays hidden a cache of treasure, Lucie along with her boyfriend William (Félix Moati) and his brother Ben (Jérémy Kapone) sneak back into the house under the cover of dark in an attempt to track down the fabled trove of loot. However unbeknownst to Lucy and co. is the dark, supernatural history the house they’re now frantically exploring possesses. A sanctuary to bizarre rituals and cruel captivity, a great many atrocities have been committed in this home, all of which lead directly back to Mrs Jessel herself.
Livid is a love it or hate it affair, plain and simple. Sitting somewhere between a routine haunted house venture and an experimental art house horror film, Livid tries its hand at a bit of everything. The first half of the film is easily the most conventional portion; our protagonists break into the spooky old house on the hill and proceed to explore its dank corridors in search of hidden treasure. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, but it works. As our heroes navigate the dark maze palpable sense of dread lingers overhead, and with every new door that’s opened another cryptic sight is revealed that’s even more foreboding than the last. It’s a stock standard horror movie setup only directors Bustillo and Maury handle it with expert precision, milking the creepy atmosphere for all its worth. So with the slow burn first half done and dusted, the stage is all set for all hell to break loose. Unfortunately this is where Livid begins to rapidly fall apart.
From the moment the evil that haunts the halls of Livid’s creepy mansion is revealed, the film takes on an entirely different tone. The decidedly old school approach it took in the first half quickly evaporates in favour for a far more artistic feel. An entirely new story arc is introduced that revolves around the comatose Mrs Jessel and her daughter, a subplot that is indeed intriguing, but also out-of-this-world crazy. As a result of this brave new direction the narrative takes, the flow of film is interrupted by constant flashbacks that serve little purpose except to complicate an already sagging narrative. There are some genuinely original ideas showcased throughout this second half, some of which might even leave you pondering long after the credits roll, but for the most part these unique additions will have you scratching your head in dumbfounded confusion. And just when the film appears to have worn out all of its crazy, it takes one final turn that transforms it into yet another entirely different film. It’s hard to talk about without spoiling anything, but this unpredictable nature does deserve some kudos, but at the same time the disjointed structure feels like the work of a writer with no clear objective. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the wacky ending…
While Inside was famous for it’s stomach churning gore, Livid will no doubt be remembered for its originality that boarders on insanity. There are still a handful of gruesome moments throughout the film, including one particularly nasty case of jaw-tearing action that had my screening collectively groaning and cheering, but on the whole this is far tamer experience when compared to Inside. However much like Inside, Livid is a film that has been shot with an eye for detail. With its sprawling location and fantasy influences, there are times that the film looks downright gorgeous.
As stated earlier, you’ll either love or hate Livid. If you want a unique and original horror film full of unpredictable twists and vague plot reveals, then you may enjoy this twisted fairytale. If on the other hand you enjoy plots that make sense and horror films that are actually scary and/or fun to watch, then Livid probably won’t be you cup of tea. With that said the performances from the film’s leads are all solid, the visuals are stunning and there are a few fun moments scattered through its runtime, it’s just too bad that most of these positives are overshadowed by the film’s refusal to deliver a compelling story that we should care about.
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