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[Fantastic Fest '11 Review] ‘Livid’ Creepy, Yet Weak

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Premiering at the TIFF before screening this past weekend at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, I was a fan of Inside directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s follow-up nightmare, Livid, which went with atmosphere over gore.

Bloody D stringer Brad McHargue reports in from FF where he stands firm with the opposing crowd: The film fails to overcome the weak script.

Inside you’ll find McHargue’s thoughts on the horror fairytale that’s set during Halloween night when three youths decide to burglarize an old lady’s desolate house, but what awaits them is no ordinary house…

Inside, the debut film from French gorehounds Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, was a smash hit right out of the gate when it was released in 2007. It was brutal, bloody, and featured some incredibly surreal imagery, turning its relatively straightforward approach toward into a unique little affair. Now for their sophomore feature Livid, they go in a different direction, focusing heavily on fantasy a la Pan’s Labyrinth, while still retaining modicum of the brutality that put them on the map.

Livid follows the attractive Lucie, a young nurse beginning a new job as an in-house caregiver. After visiting a house of elderly coma patient Mrs. Jessel, she is told by her supervisor Ms. Wilson that Jessel is quite wealthy, with “treasure” – gold, silver, etc – hidden somewhere in the house. She informs her boyfriend Will of this, leading him to convince her to break into the house and steal the treasure to escape their mundane lives. Along with Will’s brother Ben, the three novice thieves sneak into the house at night, only to be faced with a terrifying secret dwelling within. Spooky disappointment ensues.

As said above, Livid is a big departure from Inside. Whereas Inside was an in-your-face affair, Livid was far more subtle, preferring instead to employ the slow burn approach while waiting until the latter half of the film to heap on the blood and excess gore that made Inside such an “instant classic.” And yes, there are scissors, as well as a delightful little rehash of the “stab to the neck” scene from Inside.

Unfortunately, the story fails to materialize into anything cohesive; on the face of it it’s nothing more than a hodgepodge of scenes thrown together to loosely connect a weak story. Of course, some of the scenes were incredibly frightening, but most seemed to be tossed into the film with no real rhyme or reason as to why. One stand out moment comes and goes without any explanation as to why or, within context, how, and it’s simply infuriating.

Much of the problems arise simply from Maury and Bustillo failing to give any context to their “alternate view” of the film’s primary antagonist (which will remain ambiguous to avoid spoilers). You’re left scratching your head over not the direction in which the story is taken, but simply in the way it’s explained. It’s as if Maury and Bustillo had this grand backstory all planned out and simply failed to commit it to paper before filming.

The characters are nothing to write home about and ultimately forgettable. Lucie, although adorable, fails to do much more than channel Kristen Stewart as she stumbles through house and slowly learns the secrets of its inhabitants. Her partners in crime are underdeveloped and, quite frankly, annoying, as they are focused more on the possibility of newfound yet ill-gotten wealth than their own safety. Finally, you have Ms. Wilson, a stoic woman with a dark secret whose screen time is far less than it should be.

Through it all, however, Livid had its heart in the right place. Although slow to start, the atmosphere was sufficiently moody and delightfully scary, something that Inside eschewed in favor of non-stop gore. It plays out like an extended nightmare, winding precariously through the halls of a dilapidated mansion, implying but never truly revealing the horror that awaits our unfortunate visitors. And don’t forget the animal heads. Those are never NOT terrifying.

Livid is well shot and suitably creepy, but fails to overcome the weak script. Unique and contrived at the same time, it has all the elements of something great, but Maury and Bustillo seem too interested in keeping the story shrouded in ambiguity to pull off what they were seemingly intending to do. Ultimately, it’s an interesting take on a well-established story, but it simply didn’t live up to what it was promising.

Official Score