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rochefort [Film Festival 09.28.11] France movie review horror

Year: 2011
Directors: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Writers: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 5 out of 10

If you've seen "Inside", the debut film by directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, you probably have the same high expectations for their second film "Livid" as I did. "Inside" was so good and so jarring that Bustillo and Maury were quickly lauded as examples of why the then-new wave of French horror was world-class, and for their follow-up they've chosen to stretch a bit and venture into genre-fusing, quasi-arthouse territory. Their new film is part haunted house movie, part vampire-like creature movie, and part bloody fairy tale, with even a dash of Jeunet-style steampunk thrown in for good measure. And while "Livid" is a very different film from their debut and should be judged on its own merits, it's sadly obvious that they've fallen prey to that old standby, the sophomore slump.

It's kinda difficult to get into any of the distinguishing plot elements without spoilers, folks, so be warned. Lucie (exotically gorgeous Chloe Coulloud) has just started her new job as a house-calling caregiver, and makes the rounds with seasoned and cynical Wilson (Catherine Jacob). Her most interesting patient is comatose Mrs. Jessel, a supposedly hundred-year-old woman who in her prime was a world-famous dance instructor who employed highly experimental teaching methods; Wilson likes to gossip about each of her charges, and tells Lucie that it's believed Mrs. Jessup long ago hid an unspecified treasure somewhere in her massive mansion. Lucie relays the story to her two-strike boyfriend William, who then talks her into breaking into the house to search for the treasure along with William's brother Ben, and inside they find room after room full of arcane remnants of Jessup's bygone teaching days, including a number of mechanical animals arranged in a macabre tea party. When the group splits up, Ben is suddenly surrounded and slashed to death by a trio of vicious ballerinas, and not long after William and Lucie learn that they probably won't make it out alive unless they discover the truth about Mrs. Jessup's bizarre experiments.

If nothing else, "Livid" is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Once the plot takes the trio of housebreaking teens into the dark inner workings of the mansion, scene after scene plays out like some kind of blood-drenched Victorian art installation, and there's a massive amount of detail to appreciate in the many grotesque sculptures and clockwork contraptions. Narrative-wise, the opening act which follows Lucie and Wilson on their rounds is quite good, showcasing character and somber atmosphere so well that you could easily forget you'd shown up for a horror film. Once the kids get inside the house, however, the plot nosedives into a hack-and-slash that, while often visually arresting, is just as often confusing and occasionally ridiculous. I was never quite clear what kind of creatures the main villains happened to be, and had to settle on something between a vampire and a fairy. But by the climax it didn't matter anyway, since Lucie turns out to be one of those horror characters with an innate sixth sense that allows her to figure out the necessary exposition and bring the proceedings in for a landing. From my perspective, though, it was less a landing than a crash, and the last few scenes had me suppressing my wtf reflex.

That said, you have to admire the filmmakers for trying to expand their repertoire. It's different enough from "Inside" that I can easily imagine some moviegoers will be attracted to its off-kilter rhythms and rich visuals and actually prefer it over their debut, but I'm definitely not among them. I still believe they'll top "Inside" at some point in the future, and when they manage to blend the gut-punch intensity of that film with the clear daring of this latest, we could be in for a real eye-opener.

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nochy.veck (9 years ago) Reply

nice review.


Little Lord Cunt-y Bunz (9 years ago) Reply

Nice death spoiler. No, really, thanks for that.

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