Livid (2011)

Taste the darkness

Writers: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Directors: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury

Livid (‘Livide’) is a very strange French supernatural horror. Perhaps the strangest about is that it works as well as it does.

The film begins with young Lucie Klavel (Chloe Coulloud) starting her new job as a trainee giving home care to the elderly. She’s shown round by her down-to-earth, no-nonsense boss Mrs Wilson (superbly played by Catherine Jacob) who is quite open about her contempt for their patients. One of these patients is a Mrs Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla) who has been in a coma for years. Jessel lives in a big house – a very big house – and there are rumours that she has a valuable treasure hidden somewhere.

Lucie and her boyfriend decide to break in and hint for the treasure. Needless to say, what they find isn’t what they were expecting and things go badly wrong…

If that sounds like the synopsis of a standard Hollywood horror movie – well it probably will be. A US remake is rumoured. However it’s unlikely to be much like this very odd original.

Livid begins with grey skies, shots of a graveyard and melancholy music. The miserable atmosphere continues for the next half hour as Lucie and Wilson visit their patients and nothing else much happens – it really is wrist-slittingly depressing.

Things finally get moving about 40 minutes in when the young trio are in the house. Then it moves in a rather unexpected direction that caught me completely off guard. In some ways it becomes a traditional horror film, but in other ways it remains a haunting atmosphere piece. There’s a tension between the traditional horror narrative and the dreamlike symbolism that Bustillo and Maury overcome almost by force of will. The surreal visuals are so strong that you simply can’t stop to think about the fact that much of what you’re seeing makes no sense!

There’s not a lot of violence for the gore seeker, but what violence does take place is shown unflinchingly, making it very raw especially against the dreamlike backdrop.

Special credit must be given to the sound and the music by Raphael Gesqua that perfectly complements the mood all the way through without becoming overpowering.

So Livid is a distinctly peculiar film. The first act is too slow and miserable. Once things get going there’s a mess of plot overlaid with bizarre imagery. Yet the whole thing is held together by an atmosphere so powerful that it’s impossible to stop watching. It’s a film where you just have to let yourself go and absorb it rather than analyse it, and on that basis I really enjoyed it.