Just a few years ago we were treated to a frankly ferocious French import called Inside. The tale of a very pregnant woman who must fight off a very psychotic woman, Inside earned a lot of fans on the worldwide festival circuit -- and with good reason. Now co-directors Julien Maury and Alex Bustillo are back with their sophomore effort, and while it's certainly not as harsh, rough, and brutal as Inside, their Livid is a delightfully dark and novel spin on a potentially tiresome old horror trope: the haunted house.
Our central character is a lovely young woman who has recently started a job as an in-house nurse. Her job is to give injections to senile old men and comatose old women -- but she quickly learns of a much easier way to make some money: seems that one of her more decrepit clients is reputed to have a large cache of "treasure" hidden within her unwelcoming, dilapidated mansion. So with her boyfriend and his brother in tow, young Lucie (Chloe Coulloud) breaks into the foreboding Jessel mansion and pokes around for that treasure.
So here's where you're probably thinking "Great, three young jerks break into a creepy mansion and something horrific begins stalking them. I think I've seen this movie 23 times already." And that would certainly be a fair statement. But therein lies the difference between fly-by-night horror dabblers and real deals like the team of Maury and Bustillo: this is a haunted house movie made by two men who've seen all the worthwhile haunted house movies, and have picked the coolest, the creepiest, and the most disconcerting components for their own contribution to the sub-genre.
Presented as a gorgeous collection of progressively more disturbing moments, Livid is "arthouse" on the surface and full-bore horror beneath. The co-directors borrow a few pages from the Guillermo del Toro visual playbook, and the result is one of the most subtly ominous and powerfully insidious locations you'll find on the horror shelf. Even if you don't love the basic "hook" of what's hiding deep inside the Jessel estate, you'll have no problem sitting back and letting the gloomy, Gothic vibe wash over you like a warm blanket.
Make no mistake: this is one brilliantly atmospheric little horror movie. The visual palette seems like Del Toro one minute, Silent Hill the next, and there's an omnipresent air of off-putting "oldness" to the edifice that works wonders on the screen, as well as in your head. Frankly, this is a gorgeous horror movie to look at.
Further bolstered by some fantastic special effects, a powerfully commanding musical score, and a refreshingly ambiguous storytelling framework, Livid may not be an improvement over Inside, but in a way it's even better: it's firm evidence that these two directors will be tackling a variety of horror sub-genres, and that they'll tackle each one with their own unique style and admirably grim sensibilities. Like the recent hit Insidious, Livid indicates that there's still a lot of mileage left in the "haunted house" tank, provided you know which drivers to trust.