Sunday, 22 April 2012

Livid (2011)

"Don't you know it's bad luck to whistle on the moor on Halloween?"

- Ben, Livid

What do you do when you find out the comatose old lady you're caring for is hiding unimaginable riches somewhere in her creepy, forbidding old mansion? Go back there at night with torches? Wrong. You go back on Halloween night, with one single torch.

This is more or less the premise of Livid, the latest film from Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, who in 2007 gave us the superbly twisted home invasion thriller Inside. Lucie, a trainee nurse, learns on her first day on the job that one of her charges - an emaciated hag on a life support system - has hidden a treasure away in somewhere in her vast, decaying moorland residence. Together with her boyfriend Will (who so far takes the 2012 prize for Horror's Biggest Dumbass) and his brother Ben, she breaks into the mansion later that night to discover - gasp - that some treasures are best left unfound.

After a steady, well-crafted opening, Livid dives into its haunted house exploration theme with relish. Populated with spooky dolls and snarling mounted heads, and filmed with an adept economy of light, the house is spooky, and gets even more so when the old lady upstairs proves to be less comatose than she seemed. Upon the discovery of the "treasure" (spoiler: it's not treasure), the house seems to awake along with its owner, spilling its history as vengeful ghosts, animal-headed animatronics and bloodthirsty witches creep out of the woodwork to terrorise the invaders. The hag, it transpires, was a heartless ballet teacher in the life before her coma, and the mansion still holds the remnants of the cruelties she inflicted on her students - one of whom was her own mute daughter.

If this sounds like the premises of a few different films rolled together, well, you'd be right. Livid's problem is that it's trying to be every horror film at once, and while this concept has potential in the right hands, those hands just aren't Messrs Maury and Bustillo's. Everything from the story to the set-pieces to the scares have clear and direct influences from Hammer, Tim Burton, Dario Argento and Guillermo del Toro, and there are more specific visual references to the likes of An American Werewolf in London, Nosferatu and Suspiria. The overall effect just feels watered-down, as if the creators couldn't agree on an overall theme so they just threw everything at the script to see what sticks.

Some of it does stick - there are some good scares (creepy clockwork zombie vampires are creepy) and the story - which shifts into Burton-esque Gothic fantasy by the end - still engages, but it wraps up with too many confusing plot holes and irrelevant twists to be satisfying. Even the scares are inconsistent, lurching from Woman in Black-like haunted house tension one moment to violent, flesh-tearing body horror the next. All this said, the overall experience is still good fun and Livid makes a decent watch - but it feels like a messy step backwards from the focused, carefully-crafted Inside.

I caught this at the Bradford Film Festival and stuck around for the Q&A with Julien Maury afterwards, where he talked about his attachment to various remakes/sequels of Hellraiser, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, all of which have fallen through for one reason or another. It's a shame because if nothing else, Livid demonstrates that Maury and Bustillo have the filmmaking style and knowledge of the genre to put together a good entry in any franchise. If they were given a single story to focus on, instead of mashing together elements of about a dozen, this directing duo has the potential to make something great again.

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