Fantastic Fest Review: Alexandre Bustillo/Julien Maury's Horror 'Livid'
by Jeremy Kirk
September 25, 2011
It's always exciting to see a fresh take on something you've witnessed before, when a filmmaker—or in Livid's case, filmmakers —toys with mythology, concocts a clever way of expressing that vision, and scares you senseless with what they've crafted. For Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, that fresh take on an old concept was done near flawlessly with the 2007 home invasion movie À l'intérieur (Inside). With Livid, they do it again, but the great thing about this is you don't even know going in what old clothes they're taking out of the wardrobe to dust off and make presentable again. Nor will I be revealing what that idea is. Regardless, it's safe to say that Livid is inventive, smart atmospheric, and on several occasions damn scary.
Lucie, played by Chloé Coulloud, is on her first day as an in-home caregiver when she visits Mrs. Jessel's estate. Mrs. Jessel lies in a coma, connected to a breathing apparatus, and alone in her mansion. Lucie learns from her trainer that Mrs. Jessel, once a dance instructor who lost her only daughter years ago, has hidden a treasure in her home that she's holding onto as part of her final will. Upon retelling this story to her boyfriend, William (Félix Moati), the two along with William's brother, Ben (Jérémy Kapone), decide to go to the woman's home late on Halloween night and find the treasure for themselves. As you might expect in a horror film, they do find something.
First and foremost, Bustillo & Maury's sense of composition is impeccable. As horror filmmakers, they know precisely what to show and when to show it, and their use of lighting, movement, and shot structure meticulously hides what needs to be hidden. Until, of course, it needs to be revealed, at which time the French directors provide the audience with a number of genuine scares and unnerving imagery. Even the settings of each scene in Livid, the way each room of Mrs. Jessel's mansion is carefully designed, adds to the disquieting atmosphere that puts you at unease long before anything truly horrific shows itself. Much like Inside, Livid provides all the elements to please a fan of horror from any angle: the scares, the tension, the atmosphere, and, ultimately, the gore. Hell, fans of either An American Werewolf in London and/or Halloween III: Season of the Witch are given subtle, but noticeable, Easter eggs.
But more than excellent horror-based execution, the story in Livid that Bustillo & Maury have crafted is, like each shot of their film, designed to only reveal to you as much as you need to know at any given time. Information is expertly conveyed to the audience about Lucie and Mrs. Jessel's past, the moments in their history that have shaped them both to this point in the story. None of it feels like sloppy exposition or needlessly heavy. Quite the contrary, in fact, as certain elements of Livid are left completely open, hardly even brushed on at all, and it's up to the audience to place the pieces of the puzzle where they feel they need to go. You can do some of this from what we already know about this sub-genre, again something we're not going to expose here, but even then Livid provides imagery/developments in plot and character that leave you scratching your head.
Even at those turns that don't fully reveal themselves, Livid is a stylish and frightening look at motherhood, at loss, and, finally, at escape. Not the escape of a group of would-be thieves who are trapped by something monstrous, but something that cuts even deeper. It's an escape for Lucie, whose mother committed suicide before the film begins, and the ghost who subconsciously stalks her, a more powerful haunting than anything that might chase you through the labyrinthine halls of an old masion. But the story in Livid, the directions it takes from start to finish, also shows the liberation of something much darker, something fans of horror stories will know all too well but have never seen done quite like this.
The bite Bustillo & Maury's Livid provides as a film sinks in and definitely stays there. You may have to wrestle with some of the more abstract imagery, those depictions of something figurative that those who don't understand it will take as literal. However, the feeling is undoubtedly there, enough answers to leave you breathless at what you've just seen. Livid is truly a matured next step for two filmmakers we will certainly be seeing much more of in the future.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 8.5 out of 10