Year: 2011
Director(s): Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Writers: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Region of Origin: France
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: Unrated
35mm?, Color, 88 mins

Synopsis: During Lucie’s first day as a trainee in-house caregiver, she visits Mrs Jessel, an old woman who lies alone in cerebral coma, at her large desolate house. Learning by accident that Mrs Jessel, a former dance teacher of repute may possesses a treasure somewhere in the house, Lucie and friends William and Ben decide to search the house in the hope of finding it. Their hunt for treasure leads them into a horrifying supernatural series of events that will change Lucie forever… (Source)

Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo had me with their strong directorial debut, Inside. It was a vicious, creative, shock to the system. At the time, they were also (deservedly) credited with being part of a small handful of French directors creating really strong and potent horror films, films which were seemingly poised to help jump start a new wave of extreme horror. After flirting with taking the reins on some iconic, yet unnecessary American franchises (Hellraiser, Halloween), the two went back to France with the intent of furthering their own creative endeavors, the result of which is Livid. Calling their sophomore effort my most anticipated of Screamfest would be an understatement, and after hearing mixed buzz about the movie’s festival runs, I was open to anything. By all accounts, Livid is a gorgeous movie visually and conceptually, but is tripped up by some pretty big narrative flaws. Is it a failure? Not at all, but it also doesn’t fulfill the many promises that it’s jam-packed narrative and gorgeous visuals impart.

Like Inside, Livid is somewhat of a chamber piece, taking place almost exclusively in one setting. It’s main character is Lucie, a young trainee in-house caregiver who discovers that one of her coma-ridden patients may or may not have a treasure hidden in her extremely creepy and giant gothic mansion. After blabbing the news to her really idiotic boyfriend and cohort, the trio set upon the house in a mis-aligned attempt to change the somewhat disappointing, yet decent fortune life has given them.

Despite the movie’s narrative flaws (more on this in a bit), I’ll start at what the movie does great, which is basically containing everything and anything that a horror fan could want. It has a nice fairy-tale like set-up, which starts slow in the real world, while slowly progressing and shifting into an atmospheric and impressionistic dream state once they hit the mansion for treasure. The house is extremely creepy with production design and style that are absolutely stunning throughout. I was actually impressed by how versatile the visuals were in a movie that is almost 80% dark, without any real overt lighting (think The Descent), yet able to throw in splashes of bright, vivid color for momentary impact. Creative gore, ethereal scares, gothic aesthetics, jolts, and even creatures, all simultaneously bring to mind Guillermo Del Toro, Clive Barker, and even Dario Argento, all with an intensity that only grows more bizarre as the movie progresses, proving that said qualities stem from an undeniable talent for visual eccentricity and versatility. Because of such greatness, it’s with sadness that I tell you that Maury and Bustillo’s story writing chops just can’t match what they’re portraying visually, which in this case hurts the delicacy and interactive nature that their story needs for real impact.

Much more than I wanted to, I felt really detached from the movie’s proceedings. There are movies that are brilliantly written, just plain bad, and a few that are stuck painfully in the middle, making you wish they were just that much better, as it’s easier in the latter to see what could’ve and should’ve been. Livid is one of those movies stuck in the middle in terms of storytelling. I honestly believe that every idea in the movie is pretty great visually and narratively, but most of it never truly connects, only making each part feel arbitrary or out of place. Most damning off all, is a real reason to care for our young heroine Lucie as she’s sandwiched between two moronic and greedy characters. It hurts most in the movie’s climax where I can tell that it was meant to be something very beautifully and emotionally engaging. Fairy tale movies like this are never needed to tie up loose ends, and work much better when things are left to interpretation, but what is necessary is to at least feel emotionally immersed in the protagonist’s journey. I just didn’t feel that.

In the end, Livid is a beautiful and gorgeously lush misfire. It’s an experience worth having in my opinion, but isn’t the one that could’ve been. I still have hopes for Maury and Bustillo, especially after watching this, and I’d love to see them paired up with a writer who can match their visual artistic merit narratively.

Crome Rating: 3.5/5