Lost in translation seems to be the theme I keep coming back to for Livid, the new spooky house horror thriller from the French filmmaking team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside). Maybe this is genuinely new for French genre cinema, but nothing here comes off as remotely fresh or even particularly interesting. Perhaps there is stuff going on in this film that makes total sense to some people, but not me. And then there’s the look of the film, which is awash is murky digital aesthetic that lacks any warmth and depth. I wonder if it looked this bad and poorly lit when they looked at the action through the camera viewfinder?
Livid is Maury and Bustillo’s follow-up to the extremely well-reviewed and thoroughly brutal, if reputation is to be believed, Inside about a pregnant protagonist whose house is broken into by a deranged individual. Livid flips that somewhat and sees a trio of seemingly rational twentysomethings enter the house of an elderly woman who, myth says, has a stash of hidden treasure somewhere in the house. As the exposition so routinely tells us, these three individuals–at-home nurse Lucie (Chloé Coulloud, Gainsbourg), her boyfriend, William (Félix Moati, LOL), and his brother, Ben (Jérémy Kapone, also from LOL)–are desperate to get out of their meagre existences. Once Lucie’s new boss–the best in show Catherine Jacob (Who Killed Bambi?) as Catherine Wilson, a woman who struggles to hide the contempt and evil behind her eyes that have seen more pain than normal–lets slip about the comatose ballerina’s secret stash of loot, a plan is afoot. A not particularly well thought out plan, mind you, and one that blind Freddy could tell you wasn’t going to work, but a plan nonetheless.
The genre trope of somebody starting a new job only to discover on their very first day that things are not what they seem is one that’s been well worn. With Livid it gets a very stale interpretation that I found entirely unable to grasp. The film slowly limps towards its rather uninvigourating conclusion as it conveniently discards characters at will and pads out its stretched 90-minute runtime with flashbacks that illuminate the plot, but sap it of mystery and sense.
Speaking of illuminating. The makers of this film really would have been wise to hire somebody who could do that. Scene after scene of murky photography makes the already dim setting hard to see. There appears to be some wonderfully gothic architecture to this mansion, but it’s as if they don’t want anybody to see it. Still, one could forgive the bad lighting, or the abundance of flashbacks and convenient contrivances if the thing was even remotely scary. The ideas that Livid raises– there are allusions to metamorphosis, animal/human crossbreeding, child abuse and more– aren’t explored for long enough to penetrate. Meanwhile, the physical scares are reduced to a few shots where characters pop up in the background. A macabre tea party with mechanical taxidermy is as close as Maury and Bustillo get to finding an idea and working it to its desired effect. In the end it’s a snail’s pace to the rather naff climax, bringing an end to the dodge-podge of disconnected ideas.
Livid is out now through Madman Entertainment