Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #230
Number of Views: One
Release Date: December 7, 2011 (France)
Sub-Genre: Arthouse Horror
Country of Origin: France
Running Time: 93 minutes
Directors: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Producers: Vérane Frédiani, Franck Ribière
Screenplay: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Special Effects: Olivier Afonso
Visual Effects: Laurens Ehrmann
Cinematography: Laurent Barès
Score: Raphaël Gesqua
Studios: La Fabrique 2, SND, La Ferme! Productions, Plug Effects, Canal+, CinéCinéma
Distributor: Dimension Films(US), StudioCanal (UK), M6 Vidéo (France)
Stars: Chloé Coulloud, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Félix Moati, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Chloé Marcq, Loïc Berthezene, Béatrice Dalle
Suggested Audio Candy
It’s inevitably never going to be an easy ask following up a piece of horror cinema like À l’intérieur (Inside). Co-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury raised the bar considerably with their nightmarish home invasion movie and turned many a head in the process. It has taken four years for the pair to follow this up, suggesting that they have waited patiently for the right idea to come along. Livid is their all-important sophomore effort and can be considered make or break for the duo. If all goes well then they stand to become everyone’s new favorite film-makers but, in the eventuality that it goes tits up, they’ll be consigned to the slag heap faster than a soiled tampon and never spoken of again.
The first thing that strikes you about Livid is how they appear to have moved away from harsh brutality and seem camped in delectably dark and novel grounds for their follow up. It focuses on Lucie (Chloé Coulloud), a young woman struggling to come to terms with the untimely death of her mother and taking on a job as an in-house nurse at an elderly care home to make ends meet. She is informed by house lady Madame Wilson (Catherine Jacob) that comatose ballet instructor Madame Jessel has a hidden stash of treasure somewhere within the walls and this piques cash-strapped Lucie’s interests. Along with her boyfriend and his brother (Jérémy Kapone and Félix Moati) she revisits the dilapidated mansion at the dead off night, with the intent of burglarizing said trove.
It soon becomes frighteningly opaque that all is not well. Jessel’s ostensibly expired daughter, Anna is holed up in the attic and rigged like clockwork to some old antiquated music box much to Lucie’s fascination. It isn’t long before the layers begin peeling away and we are left with an abstract dream world which rapidly augments into somewhere far less inviting. Inside becomes a distant memory and the directors’ intentions are made clear. This is evidently a departure and shares more in common with Dario Argento’s waking phantasm Suspiria than its unremitting forebear.
The dream aesthetic plays out brilliantly and both Laurent Barès’s surreal photography and Raphaël Gesqua’s brooding and occasionally stabbing score lend themselves to fashioning an insular nightmare where the house reads into your subconscious somehow and leaves you discombobulated, without context or clarity. As addressee we share in that befuddlement and, in this respect, they hit pay-dirt with their Gothic-themed hell house. One must remind themselves that this is more of an art-house movie than anything else and bears more in semblance with the works of Guillermo del Toro than their previous outing.
Narrative plays a much larger part in Livid although, again akin to Suspiria, not in a traditional sense. The trespassing trio are all motivated differently by breaking in and their stimuli are freedom, curiosity and flat-out greed giving each in turn their own unique edge. In particular though it is Coulloud’s performance that resonates strongest, especially when parallels are drawn between her and busted ballerina Anna and things take a turn for the more inexplicable. There is sufficient depth to her character but interestingly she remains equally ambiguous and conveys everything and nothing exquisitely. In addition, there is no shared dialogue between Lucie and Anna and instead they connect through almost symmetrical unspoken tongues.
Beatrice Dalle also has a fleeting turn as her deceased mother and, despite the brevity of her appearance, she still manages to send a handful of shivers down the spine. She will forever be The Stranger to me from now on and who better than her to play an inscrutable stiff. If that doesn’t dose you up with the willies then the thinly veiled and rather spiteful clockwork mademoiselles and Jacob’s less than hospitable house maiden surely will. Bustillo and Maury set up with enough restraint, only sporadically opting for the traditional peek-a-boo horror in favor of cranking up the tension like an antique ‘boîte à musique’.
The closing act could be construed as a missed opportunity as the film settles into its fairy tale theme and moves farther away from outright horror. This is by no means a criticism, merely a choice taken by the duo and one which is justified as they hold our attention effortlessly through the haunting final frame. I have a lot of respect for these two auteurs, it would have been a no-brainer regurgitating the theme which won them massive worldwide plaudits first time out but instead they go against the grain, thus showing their adaptability as film-makers. Livid is a film of three distinct acts which hang together awkwardly at times, a little like the grotesque ballerinas who will be pirouetting through my phantasms for weeks to come.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Whilst this is by no means a body count flick, fans of Inside will be more than the contented by the vicious punctuations to the dreamlike tranquility and percolating tension. A particularly bloodthirsty scene featuring a wrenched open jaw is superbly evocative of the kind of viscera they treated us to with their last film and there’s an absolute shit kicking which shows the pair’s meanness of spirit is still wholly intact.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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