Livide is oh so close and yet, so far away. Like the house in the film, enter at your own risk.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out if the new French film Livide is worth the time. I’ve seen the film twice now and my mind is still not made up. The first time I caught it I was sick with a bad case of Strep throat (though my symptoms felt more like the flu) and I was just in a terrible mood to begin with. My second viewing I was as normal as can be with my mind ready to absorb anything thrust in front of me.
Oddly enough, I had a similar reaction to the film. Now, the directing duo that made the unbelievably grotesque (and atmospherically perfect) Inside, comes Livide. Not as bloody (but equal in atmosphere and mood), Livide is a film that in my eyes really doesn’t live up to the potential it starts out with.
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, Livide has scenes of fantastic dread and a very bad mean streak. But what else do you expect from the guys who previously made a film about a woman eight months pregnant being terrorized by a sadistic killer? The killings are brutal. The tension gets ratcheted up to the perfect amount. The lighting and mood create an almost dreamlike (or maybe nightmarish is a better suited adjective) state. Making you feel like what is happening can’t possibly be. But boy is it ever.
Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) is the main character of the film. She has just been hired as a caretaker. On her first day she is picked up by an older woman, who is her new boss. Lucie has two different colored eyes, which may or may not be relevant later on in the movie. I won’t spoil the fun.
Lucie’s first day involves meeting several of the clients she is going to be helping throughout her day. Changing sheets and diapers, giving medicine and shots are all among her daily routines. Her final client is a very elderly lady who resides by herself in an old mansion (one of those great mansions that could only exist in a horror film). Old, full of dust and relics, it looks like it hasn’t been inhabited in decades.
I guess resides is the wrong word, she more or less lays in a bed in a coma all day. Lucie is there to only give her a blood transfusion. This confuses Lucie and once one thinks about it, yes, very odd that a woman in a coma would need a blood transfusion on a daily basis.
Lucie and her boss discuss the old lady. Her family, she has almost none. Her wealth, hidden away somewhere in the house Lucie is told. But where could it be? Maybe the key around the old lady’s neck is the answer.
Later that night Lucie meets up with her boyfriend at a local bar. She tells him about the supposed hidden treasure in the mansion. The two of them team up with another friend of theirs and decide (against their much better judgment) to break into the mansion while the woman sleeps and plunder it of its wealth.
The trio arrives at the mansion in the middle of the night when it is dark and eerie. Where shadows move and they say things like, “Who goes there?” or “Come out so I can see you!” And obviously it would be during the night, because during the day it wouldn’t be scary enough. Soon the three friends are fighting for their lives against a terrible force. Livide then gets quite good in parts and coincidentally very perplexing in others.
What the movie does succeed at is being down right creepy at times. The production design is top notch. This is a house I wouldn’t want to be caught in during the day, let alone at night. As I mentioned previously, it’s full of dust and decay. Peeled wallpaper limps off the wall. Old pictures of past family members adorn the mantle above the fireplace. Old furniture sits in the middle of rooms covered with sheets.
One of the best set pieces is a child’s room on one of the upper levels of the house. It contains a child’s tea party table with dolls that feature animal heads instead of that of a human’s. Foxes, toads, rabbits all feature at this table. Sipping their tea and staring off into space, the freaky dolls seem to move at their own free will at convenient moments to scare the audience. These scenes are some of the best moments of the film.
The near perfect production design coupled with the cinematography make the movie’s mood utterly disturbing. The film’s lighting at times creates a living nightmare of color. Some rooms are lit up with all red while others favor a bold bright green. One recalls the Italian horror masterpiece by Dario Argento, Suspiria as an inspiration. With the director’s love of giallo films plus the addition of the ballet subplot, it’s quite obvious the film was inspired by Argento’s masterwork.
The movie is also diabolic in its use of violence. Insanely brutal at times as one person gets their forehead bitten into (how often does that happen?), while another gets the top of their head ripped from apart from their jaw. To quote Roger Ebert, “I hate it when that happens”. Tons of blood is featured in Livid. Horror fans will eat it up.
However, while everything seems to be working for the better, Livide gets bogged down with too many negative aspects. One of my least favorite things about going to the movies is when a film explains more than it really needs to. I cannot stand it when this happens. The film version of Silent Hill a few years ago is a huge violator of this. Livide simply tries to explain too much back story for us to care about what is really happening at the present moment.
The film should’ve just gone with creating a living nightmare and an atmosphere of confusion for its characters rather than telling a lame back story about a cruel ballet teacher. When films do this it feels like the filmmakers are trying to fill a void and eat up time to reach 90 minutes. I wish a movie would come out that would just aim to make the audience feel as uncomfortable as possible without trying to explain too much.
Another spot Livide lost me in was its lack of focus. It seems like the film doesn’t know what genre it wants to be in. Maybe I’m just nitpicking too much. I don’t know. One part of the movie is a great haunted house film and the other is a great fresh new take on the vampire genre. In the end it feels like the film’s two genres are competing with each other rather than coexisting. This along with a very routine ending killed my love for the film.
I was so happy at the chance to finally see this movie (I actually strongly considered seeing it at TIFF last year), but ultimately I felt let down in the end. Too much explaining and not enough haunting for my blood, Livide is oh so close and yet, so far away. Like the house in the film, enter at your own risk.