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Chloe Coulloud (Lucie), Felix Moati (William), Jeremy Kapone (Ben), Catherine Jacob (Catherine Wilson), Beatrice Dalle (Lucie's mother), Marie-Claude Pietragalla (Jessel)
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
The Short Version:The follow up to the devastatingly potent INSIDE (2007) finds that films deadly duo crafting a different type of movie altogether. This time they weave an adult fairy tale told with all the convoluted panache of vintage Argento polished with the sheen of Guillermo Del Toro. Essentially a vampire movie, it's radically different from other vamp tales in both structure and execution. While it plays out like a quilt being stitched together with different pieces of material, LIVID has its moments and succeeds on a purely visual level. The ruptured and occasionally confusing narrative fails to keep up with some stunning set pieces and photographic touches while an intrusive onslaught of gore in the last half will keep those waiting for it satiated.
Lucie is on her first day as an in-home caregiver with her trainer, Mrs. Wilson. One of her stops is a dilapidated mansion inhabited by the comatose Deborah Jessel, a former ballet instructor who is now kept alive through a breathing apparatus. Upon learning that a vast treasure is allegedly hidden somewhere within the decaying home, Lucie, her boyfriend William and another friend break into the house at night to find the riches for themselves. Instead of money, they find a dark, terrible secret kept locked away inside the rooms of the mansion.
The French fear filmmaking team of Bustillo and Maury return to terror territory with a unique follow up feature to their monumentally impressive nightmare, INSIDE (2007). With their debut proving difficult to live up to, much less surpass, LIVID jettisons the Carpenteresque camera tricks, and the pseudo slasher scenario in favor of supernatural horror on an adult fairy tale level.
Outside of reveling in nightmare imagery their previous film dabbled in during its conclusion, this new film goes in a totally different direction. The duo apparently turn their attentions towards emulating the style of old Dario Argento movies with that directors penchant for style over substance. Also, the sort of atmosphere indigenous to Guillermo Del Toro's sinister cinematic worlds appears to be an influence; reverberated via the superb cinematography of Laurent Bares.
There are also a few nods to American horror films such as a sign that is similar to 'The Slaughtered Lamb' of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) and also a scene with three kids decked out in the same costumes seen in HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). One of the actors even hums that films commercial jingle. It should be noted the film takes place on Halloween, although the film never capitalizes on the use of the holiday. These moments of homage add nothing to the film and seem to just drop in out of nowhere.
Ditto for the plot, which, once the three young would-be-thieves break into the mansion, plot is forgotten about and the remainder of the movie is a string of macabre set pieces that seem more interested in raising a goosebump or two than propelling the narrative or coherency for that matter.
The eeriest of these is the discovery of a room whose centerpiece is a corpse (bearing a scarred face and eyelids stapled shut) affixed to a carousel that, when activated, rotates much like a giant wind up doll.
Other rooms in the house are adorned with assorted dolls and bizarre taxidermy displays positioned at tables engaged in mock tea parties.
Once the indignant interlopers realize the supposed sole denizen of the house isn't so comatose after all, the penetrating creepiness gives way to gore. A few flashbacks fill us in on what little back story the writers (in this case, Bustillo and Maury) are willing to give us. It's also here in these flashbacks that unveil an operatic, fantasy element that shows the vampiric nature of the Jessel matriarch and the cruel hold she maintains on her daughter. It should be reiterated that these plot points are patched together leaving it up to the viewer to put them together and draw their own conclusion.
There are other pint sized ballerinas seen in these moments, but we don't know who they are, or if they've been kidnapped, or what. Apparently they became part of Jessel's twisted "murderous wind up doll" collection. In a scene where one of the intruders finds himself inexplicably transported to some strange laboratory, he's suddenly and viciously attacked by three homicidal ballerinas with veils over their faces. They're never seen again, unless they are supposed to be among the other tiny dancers seen in a later flashback.
There's also a brief shot of the mansion floating in the air with blackened, supernatural energy swirling around it! This, too, is not explained. Presumably this is to infer the Jessel home resides in some alternate universe. A line of dialog in a flashback from Deborah Jessel to her daughter Anna (who's just feasted on one of the other ballerinas resulting in Jessel telling her 'only those we don't know') somewhat confirms this, "The sun and moon don't want you. The humans down below want you even less."
The ending is equally confusing. At the beginning of the film, Lucie is shown to have two different colored eyes. Her co-worker states this has something to do with a second soul. What happens at the end appears to be the transference of one of those souls to enable Lucie, now seemingly inhabiting the body of the vampire Anna, to ascend into heaven leaving Anna, now a human, to remain on Earth.
This transferring of souls occurs with the aid of moths. There are a handful of scenes that feature them fluttering around, yet there's no elaboration on their inclusion here. Presumably, this has to do with the insects historically paranormal significance. For centuries moths have had a connection with the supernatural and in some countries, moths are believed to be the embodiment of human souls.
The disjointedness continues in the next scene following the soul exchange. Lucie's eyes are now the same color and judging by the dialog, "I am human", it's apparent the soul of the vampire Anna (whose been a prisoner in her home for some hundred years) is now inhabiting Lucie's body and vice versa. It appears Jessel plans to turn the new, improved "Lucie" into her new ballerina to replace her daughter. Why? The whole ballerina device is likewise never explained. It's just there. Again, this bit, like so much else that occurs past the midway point, gives way to interpretation than actual explanation.
The gore that crops up during the last half appears to be a diversion for the handicapped storyline and an act of appeasement for those anxiously awaiting some viscera to be scattered from one side of the screen to the next. The War of the Women scenario that was so integral to the uniqueness of INSIDE returns here during the finale when mother and daughter engage in a bloody battle to the death.
The score by Raphael Gesqua is another high point that aids in diverting attention from the lack of a consistent plotline. The music expertly accentuates the scenes of horror and also carries a surprising degree of poignancy in some others. The cues range from a poundingly horrific resonance to melodic, classical compositions.
The acting is accomplished and believable across the board; especially from the three young, if unlikable leads. They're breaking into an old woman's home with the intention of stealing her money for crying out loud. With this thread, there's also a Leftist leaning theme running through this movie; at least until the dark fantasy element takes hold. Lucie's co-worker (who turns out to have thicker ties with the evil Jessel than at first known) goes on about trying to find the money herself, and her wish for a rich man to whisk her away.
Furthermore, Lucie and her two male companions discuss their plan of making off with this hidden cache of gold, jewels, money and whatever else they can get their hands on; as William puts it, to make a better life for themselves. To hell with making it on your own, just steal it from somebody else. Granted, Lucie isn't so keen on the idea, but ultimately goes along with the plan. With this in mind, it's extremely difficult to get behind the three main characters.
Overall, LIVID is an interesting, yet flawed movie that works about as much as when it doesn't. The disrupted flow and lack of stability was, according to the directors on the extras, intentional in their quest to create a nightmare-like fantasy world for adults. On that, they succeed with flying, blood-red colors. It fumbles a bit here and there, but LIVID is a curious, and bold second feature to their ferociously original debut feature of five years ago. Here's hoping third time's the charm with this duo.
The region 2 DVD can be purchased at Diabolik DVD HERE.
This review is representative of the Studio Canal R2 DVD.
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.