Stars: Chloé Coulloud, Félix Moati, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Béatrice Dalle, Chloé Marcq and Marie-Claude Pietragalla.
Writers/Directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury.
REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sat 7 Jun 10.45pm.
Having crafted one of the great French horror works in 2007s Inside, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury tackle the haunted house/vampire genre with far less apparent alacrity in their follow-up, Livid. Pompous, over-stylised gaudiness and seen-it-all-before frights inspired far more giggles than gasps amongst the late night crowd at the Sydney Film Festival screening; the title may best sum up the reaction of full-price paying patrons.
Whereas Inside was a standard home-invasion thriller amped-up by bravado filmmaking and all-or-nothing physical horror, Livid tarts up a grab-bag of supernatural/kids-in-peril B-movie clichés with an arty pretension that grates. The film’s lofty thematic ambitions are to explore memory, longing, the corrosive effect of secrets and the avenging of cruel injustices, but only the most easily-pleased horror aficionado could claim Bustillo and Maury examine these with any insight.
Young trainee-nurse Lucie (a likable Chloé Coulloud) is taken by her bitter mentor Catherine (Catherine Jacob) to the dusty, shadowy mansion of bed-bound, comatosed crone Madame Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla). The once-grand estate is in disrepair, the ambience of the house filled with remnants of past lives, notably a rather disgusting collection of taxidermied animals (the suit-wearing, tea-drinking giant catfish got the biggest laugh). Lucie learns that the house was not only once a dance studio run by Jessel, but also that her sizable, long-forgotten loot is hidden somewhere in its myriad of rooms.
Spurred on by boozy courage, Lucie’s obnoxious boyfriend William (Félix Moati) and his brother Benjamin (Jérémy Kapone) break into the house to acquire said booty, but don’t bargain on Madame Jessel’s waken state or the ‘children of the night’ that still remain entombed in the home’s walls. The trio become separated; the men act like imbeciles, thereby ensuring their demise (a spoiler? I think not, so predictable is the films plodding pacing). Only Lucie, who has kept her head whilst others loose theirs, can deduce the actions required to calm the spirits of the home and free herself from their grasp.
Flashbacks to dance-hall days when the home was sanctuary to teen-vampire ballerinas (read that again....) are so grandly realised as to resemble modern-day perfume commercials. Scenery-chewing emoting from all but Coulloud, who seems more bemused than frightened, ensures Livid never fully convinces. The bloated seriousness and shallow artifice applied by Bustillo and Maury nixes any hint of the self-knowing irony that the film needed (a flaw it shares with Tony Scott’s 1983 sexy-vampire pic, The Hunger, a film it closely resembles).
In fact, Livid shares much with any number of past horror standards. Euro-horror fans will spot stock-standard giallo references from Argento’s and Bava’s oeuvres; there are hints of gothic haunted-house classics such as The Others and The Innocents. But Livid has nothing to offer of its own, save a suffocating sense overtly art-designed set-pieces and a particularly nonsensical finale. It is film that doesn’t convey great film horror but instead tries hard to manufacture and sell it.