SEPTEMBER 23, 2011
Had I known the schedule when I booked my flight, I would have opted for a red eye the night before so that there would be no worry about making the start time for Livid (French: Livide), the new film from Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who were behind one of my favorite horror films of the past decade: the amazing Inside. With the film at 8:45 and my flight not even landing until 6:45, it was going to be tough, especially since I have never been to Austin, had no idea who to talk to to get my badge, etc. Luckily, thanks to the combined heroic efforts of Devin Faraci (who secured my ticket) and AJ Bowen (who picked me up from the airport and got me to the Alamo with enough time to eat), my fears quickly disappeared.
Even before the filmmakers referenced the film directly (a moment that I laughed hysterically at - sorry, Alamo, for being disruptive), I started thinking that the film resembled what might have been an entry in the "anthology" version of the Halloween series that Halloween III had started (and killed thanks to no one liking it - fools!). It takes place on Halloween, has some nice holiday atmosphere, references a few traditions of the day ("Will o' the wisps" are featured) and tells a very Hallo-centric story of three teens sneaking into a big creepy old house on the outside of town in order to find a treasure that they heard was locked up somewhere in one of its many rooms. That Bustillo/Maury are obvious Halloween fans (they were even up to do a sequel to Rob Zombie's remake at one point) certainly didn't hurt my theory.
And like Halloween III, the 3rd act has some craziness that you either have to go along with or else the movie will be a complete failure in your eyes. And while I certainly preferred the more atmospheric and slow burn approach of the first hour to the crazy, slightly too-"French" (read: random artsy stuff) act, I can always appreciate not knowing where a movie is going after the first ten minutes. Love it or hate it, you can't tell me that the opening reel of the film clearly pointed to ending on automaton ballerina corpses and stuffed deers wearing tuxedos.
I also appreciate that the film didn't really resemble Inside on a surface level - even though both of them are set largely inside a house, they operate under different genres and the scares are more old-school jumps (they get a lot of mileage out of the stuffed animals) rather than bursts of shocking violence. There are a couple of seeming homages though; a pair of scissors once again makes a deadly appearance, and a character is introduced with some anti-smoking dialogue. But it's the theme of motherhood that really ties the films together; our heroine, Lucie, has lost her mother, and the villain is seemingly a mother who is unable to let go of her dead daughter. Most of the reveals and specifics are third act items so I don't want to get into it too much, but suffice to say that Lucie's arc is a little more interesting than the opening of the film would have you believe.
Especially when you consider how rather weak the whole "treasure hunt" aspect of the story is. Lucie hears that the place has treasure, tells her boyfriend and his brother about it, and then they all go off. Not at any point before or during their trek through the house do they consider the possibility that the treasure might not actually exist. It's fine at first, but when they begin risking their lives to find this alleged fortune and still not considering "hey, maybe she put that shit in the bank", it gets a bit silly.
Also, it should be noted that the left turn of the 3rd act could easily kill the movie for you, because the first 45-50 min is just the three of them making their way to and then wandering around the house - slow burn stuff only works if you enjoy the payoff. It's not painfully slow - there are a couple of good jump scares, and the house is definitely one you want to see explored, plus the chemistry between the three is fun. But still, there's not really a lot to that initial hour beyond appreciating the gorgeous widescreen visuals and a couple of well executed but hardly mind blowing jumps.
Also, a good chunk of this section appears to be told in real time, something I always dig. But I can't help but wonder if the 3rd act might have been a bit more successful if the flashbacks it presented were threaded throughout the entire film instead of lumped together after spending a solid, unbroken hour with Lucie and her friends. It'd be like if Memento only started being told backwards in its 3rd act - sort of too late to be playing with the basic structure of how the story is told, no?
I also wish the subtitling was better. We actually got a Franken-screening, as the first reel had a problem with the subs so they had to play a screener with burned in subs (and a guy's name! Daniel Metz will forever be etched into my memory of this film) before it switched to a superior version with the "live" subtitles. But the irony is, the "Daniel Metz" subtitles were better! Not only were the "real" ones ridden with errors (words like "here" instead of "hear"), but they also skipped over things like plaques on the wall that were obviously important enough to get a closeup. Also, you could tell from the two sets of subs that the original one was also closer to the original language; their dialogue noticeably became more "Cliff's Notes"y after they switched to the allegedly superior print.
I know this one's a bit vague for me, but again, it's a slow burn movie with some fun (if not always successful) twists in the end, and since it's not out in general release yet I'd feel guilty about discussing them, even with spoiler warnings (I debated even putting it down as a vampire movie until I was told that their official stills clearly gave that much away. Overall it was not as successful as Inside, but a solid followup, and it certainly proved that they are worth keeping an eye on. Let's just hope it doesn't take them another four years to get something off the ground.
What say you?