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LIVID is a stunner of a second film. Following INSIDE—what’s probably the most
striking contemporary horror debut—Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have
begun to carve their niche, proving their adeptness at switching tone and
subgenre while crafting recognizable and intriguing style and thematic
obsessions all their own. Thankfully,
that style elevates an admittedly thin story and lack of cohesion into a
surreal, lyrical and moving nightmare.
The film concerns a very haunting house. Young Lucie (Chloe
Coulloud) is in the midst of training to be a sort of visiting nurse, traveling
to the homes of the elderly and sick and administering whatever their medical
attention requires. In the process, her mentor Ms. Wilson (Catherine Jacob)
introduces her to the interior what’s essentially the old, dark house on a hill
of Lucie’s small fishing town. Inside lies the comatose famous dance instructor,
Jessel and rumors of treasure; rumors that work enough magic to coax Lucie, her
boyfriend William and his brother Ben inside to sniff it out. Once inside, they
learn the secrets of Jessel and her long-dead daughter Anna.
Whereas INSIDE was something of an assault, LIVID feels
poetic and entirely drenched in the nightmare logic of more
stylistically-concerned foreign horror. It’s exciting and enthralling, and
showcases some of the best imagery, production design and art direction you’re
likely to see this year. Jessel’s manor is overflowing with the bizarre and
supernatural; tea parties attended by swiveling animal-headed dolls, deadly
ballerinas, music box corpses and one particularly amazing and beautiful
flashback sequence with popping, popping reds that evoke of the audience an
atmosphere not unlike Anna’s floating.
Moreover, while LIVID’s story is a simple one spread even
thinner by its intent on crafting the oddities of a dream (the admirable scares
are unannounced, refusing to utilize shrieking strings and instead being simply
unsettling and more effective), there’s plenty there to sink one’s teeth into.
Many will remark on how much of a departure it is from the brutality of their
first film, but at its core, LIVID shares many of the same sentiments. Maury
and Bustillo seem fixated on the troubles of, and caused by motherhood. INSIDE
saw its protagonist widowed, dissatisfied and both terrified of and possibly no
longer desiring that transition to being a mom. LIVID aims to reverse its
focus, investigating the burdens mothers lay upon their daughters with Beatrice
Dalle (the incredible villain from INSIDE) briefly reteaming with the
directors, essaying Lucie’s deceased mother who’s left her child listless and
overshadowed by her suicide.
At a certain point, LIVID becomes a truly dark fairy tale.
Lucie’s otherworldly counterpart is clearly Anna, and Jessel is both a wicked
mother and teacher, essentially keeping her supernatural daughter confined (and
for good reason). While Anna is, for the most part, [Possible Spoilers?] a
specific form of movie monster, the spirit of magic and mysticism that
permeates the story gives the film a fresh feel. It also adds to the
overabundance of ideas on display, but the fact that the two filmmakers really reach
for the stars is entirely more engrossing and admirable than holding back.
They’re also uninterested in holding back their influences,
but not for theft’s sake. LIVID makes reference to many beloved horror
films, two very explicitly, with the filmmakers seemingly celebrating that to those of us who love
the genre unconditionally, these films were our contemporary fairy and
cautionary tales, keeping alive the truly grim nature of many fables’ origins.
LIVID’s final moments are a bit stretched and its end is
sillier than probably intended. It’s imperfect, yes, but entirely worth loving;
likely and hopefully appreciated and adored over time.
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