LIVIDE (2011)

aka LIVID,
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Written by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Starring Chloé Coulloud, Félix Moati, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Béatrice Dalle, Chloé Marcq, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Loïc Berthézène, Joël Cudennec, Sabine Londault, Serge Cabon, Nathalie Presles, Adèle Fousse, Roxanne Fillol Gonzalez

In preparation for these new countdowns I’ve been posting on MLMILLERWRITES, I have gone back and tried to check out films I might have missed but deserve mention in these countdowns. Try as I might, I can’t watch all of the horror films released in a year. In going back through films released in 2011-2012, I found excellent films like SOUND OF MY VOICE, JULIA’S EYES, and THE LOVED ONES—all films that showed up in last month’s countdown. This month, I’ve discovered a few great films as well released in the 2012-2013 season. Those will show up later in the countdown. One of the films I caught up with was LIVIDE (aka LIVID) from the filmmaking team of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the team that unleashed the gory masterpiece INSIDE on us in 2007. LIVIDE was Bustillo and Maury’s sophomore effort and while it was a decent film, it simply doesn’t work as well as INSIDE in my opinion. But that’s not the problem here.

One of the things that annoys me about Best of lists is that some reviewers enter films that are not available for the public. These are films released in festivals or pre-screenings, where scores of reviewers and critics flock in and come out with blurbs for the posters and advance reviews for films some readers won’t be able to see for months or even years. I hate this practice. I understand why it’s there. Early word on a film can really work in terms of advertising and building momentum behind a film. But the fact that critics include films that are unavailable for the masses in their best of lists screams elitism to me. There’s no way for Joe Normie who doesn’t get passes to pre-screenings to see these films can take that review as a recommendation and check it out for themselves. For me, those who list films that haven’t been released yet in their list is an unattractive way of showing off their privilege as critics. Quotes like, “I saw this at Schmiggity Diggity Fest back in the spring and believe me, this is an astounding movie you’re going to want to seek out when it eventually comes to limited screenings that most likely won’t be near your town!” does nothing for someone who can’t see it themselves. That’s why I make sure to check and double check my lists to guarantee those who read them can immediately take my recommendation and go see it either on direct download, On Demand, or at least pick up a BluRay on Amazon. I’m not expecting any praise for doing this, it’s just something I do because I can empathize with those who may not have the opportunity to see films at fests. There’s no need to brag that I got to see them early. That’s not going to factor in to whether or not you’re going to like a film and only serves to promote my own ego, which I am not really interested in doing.

I rant about this because LIVIDE is a film that should be on my 2012-2013 countdown (or maybe my 2011-2012 countdown). The problem is that while the film was available to view at fests (where I saw it way back when), to my knowledge, it has yet to receive a proper US release. Now, there are ways to see LIVIDE through less than legal means (not that I would recommend doing this…), but that still doesn’t mean that it is available for the masses. Maybe one day, someone will give LIVIDE a proper release, but as of now, as far as I know, it doesn’t have one.

The problem is that if LIVIDE had been released, it would have shown up right about here (in the #22-#23 spot) on my 2012-2013 Countdown. So instead of waiting forever for the film to finally be released, I decided to write up a review for the film and plop it in between my #22 and #23 picks. Think of it as a #22.5 pick and enjoy the extra entry into the 2012-2013 countdown. If and when LIVIDE is released properly, expect me to repost this review (sans the above rant).

~ END RANT / BEGIN REVIEW ~

After her first day as a home-hospice worker, Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) learns that one of her bed-ridden and comatose clients, Mme. Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla) has a treasure rumored to be hidden in her vast mansion (once an esteemed dance school). When Lucie tells her boyfriend about this, he convinces Lucie and his best bud to break into the home and pilfer that booty for themselves. But once inside, Lucie and the gang find themselves trapped in the mansion with Mme. Jessel and her former students, who seem to be mummified vampires thirsty for fresh blood.

LIVIDE is an odd and interesting mix of SUSPIRIA, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, and DON’T BREATHE. The setup is simple and sweet—kids go into a creepy house, kids can’t get out, kids run into vampires. I don’t mind simplicity. I think that there is enough present to make the scares substantial and a plenty when you enter in clockwork toys, locked doors, dancing vampires, Mme. Jessel, and her mummified daughter. There is also a vague concept of Lucie having two different colored eyes which she finds out means that she has two souls trapped inside of her that proves to be crucial in the latter portion of the film. So framing it with a simple plot actually makes this film easier to devour.

One of the main problems of LIVIDE is that it feels as if Bustillo and Maury just weren’t ready to pull the camera back and show a larger world than the cramped and claustrophobic world they so expertly crafted in INSIDE. While INSIDE focused on the tight spaces the heroine and her attacker are forced into and does so with gory and messy glee, LIVIDE pulls the lens outward more telling a more expansive story. But what LIVIDE doesn’t do is make that world interesting and unique. There are a few set pieces that work. The living doll-like characters, specifically in the room where Jessel’s daughter stands like a mannequin on a music box-like pedestal, is done rather well. It is moodily framed and effective in both tension and terror as the cobwebbed monster girl rotates on her box. But the rest of the house is less interesting consisting of furniture covered in sheets, dust and cobwebs and the occasional mounted animal heads. I wish they would have gone nuts with the mounted animals and covered every inch of the walls with them. Some of these animals are mechanized and work as clockwork toys, moving around in a robotic and effectively creepy manner. I wish Bustillo and Maury would have elaborated on this, going that extra mile with the production design of these creepy mounted animals that move around. It just feels cheap and rushed when it happens only a few times with only a few mounted heads and then they return to those same mounted heads a few times. What could have been a genuinely spooky atmosphere (reminiscent of the chicken room in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or the mannequin rooms in TOURIST TRAP and MANIAC), simply feels like a minimalist effort with momentarily creepy results. It feels like a missed opportunity to make this a truly unique atmospheric experience.

The film ends in a confounding manner using surreal dream logic and goes for more of a fairy tale style denouement rather than a conventional one. I was ok with it, but I think that it is a divisive ending that is going to confuse some who didn’t pick up on some of the conversations that are had in the opening scenes. Those who like a more conventional and concrete finish are going to be rolling their eyes at the way this one plays out.

The acting is capable, though since LIVIDE is in French, I can’t exactly tell (always a problem with me and foreign films—I’m too busy reading the lines to pay attention to the performances most of the time). The music of the film is rough and feels almost like stock overture at times. Occasionally, it’s overly dramatic and other times is not even present. That said, there is some very haunting imagery when it does eventually occur. I loved the way Jessel’s daughter looks as well as some of the design decisions of the other dancers and the gas masked Jessel herself work really well. There are a lot of really creepy ideas that work here, but I just found myself wanting more of it, given the tour de force that we were given with INSIDE.

LIVIDE is a flawed film that I feel has a lot of interesting ideas and unfortunate missed opportunities. Though I’m not a huge fan of remakes, I feel this is a film ripe for an American revision from someone who can expand some of the more interesting themes and visual uniqueness hinted at in the film itself. INSIDE was recently given a lackluster and toothless remake, so I guess I should be careful what I wish for. Still, this version of LIVIDE is a flawed, but occasionally, effectively thrilling film filled with great ideas but spotty execution.