Five years ago director duo Bustillo and Maury unleashed À l'Intérieur onto the general public, a film that may be described as one of the most suspenseful and gory films of the past decade and one of the highlights of the French horror wave. Needless to say Bustillo and Maury's Livide faced extremely high expectations, expectations that their new is not going to fulfill. Not because it's a bad film, but because it set out to be a different film altogether.
Bursting onto the scene and making a (cult) hit film is not an easy thing to do, but following up on that first hit with something that answers to the expectations of your fans is nigh impossible. And the longer it takes for your second film to arrive, the harder it becomes to please your fans. Livide was pretty much doomed from the start, but this didn't stop the directors from taking some chances. Rather than try to mimic the success of their first film, they went and made a different kind of horror film. Sure enough their are similarities (after all, it's still a horror film), but it's not the suspense and gore that make this film great.
The first part is rather generic horror fare though. We are introduced to Lucie, a young girl on her first day as a home nurse. Her mentor takes her to visit all of her patients, from time to time providing Lucie with some gossipy background information in order to liven things up a little. There is one particular (comatose) patient that draws Lucie's attention, especially when her mentor talks about a rumored treasure hidden inside the patient's mansion.
That same night Lucie returns to the mansion with her friends, determined to find out what exactly the comatose woman is hiding inside her house. Up until that point we're still in familiar territory. We have a big, run-down mansion and an old, comatose woman. More than plenty for some prime suspense. But instead of become a suspense flick, the film twists itself around and becomes a Gothic, almost fairy-tale like horror film. It's a sudden switch and it takes some time to realize what exactly the directors are aiming to accomplish, but by the end it should be clear enough that Livide is not to be judged on the same terms as À l'Intérieur.
One thing that remained consistent is Bustillo and Maury's impeccable sense of style. Livide is a stunning film, each shot is carefully planned and constructed, leading to some very impressive imagery later on in the film. There are several scenes that made a lasting visual impression, not in the least because of superb make-up effects and a great feel for lighting. Some of the CG shots could've been better, but that's just nit-picking. Livide is one of the best-looking horror film around.
The soundtrack is a strong mix of classic horror music and more ambient-like tracks. It's not very original and it does miss the more experimental influences that could be found in À l'Intérieur, but it succeeds in building up the proper atmosphere while accentuating some of the more tense scenes with well-timed climaxes. I do prefer a more challenging score, but considering the Gothic influences Livide might not be the perfect project to take a gamble on the soundtrack.
The acting is solid, with Chloé Coulloud doing a good enough job as Lucie. The characters themselves are quite plain and faceless, but the performances still exceed many of their American counterparts. There's a very limited role for Beatrice Dalle, but her input is limited to two or three short scenes. Clearly there are no award-winning performances here, but it more than suffices for the intended purpose.
Many people are not going to like the fact that Bustillo and Maury diverted from the beaten path, especially because the first half of the film gives little warning for what follows in the second part. Don't expect to be on the edge of your seat, don't expect some blunt and/or shocking gore. It's not that the film is completely void of them, but they just aren't the prime selling point anymore. Instead you get a mix of fantasy and Gothic horror, neatly packaged as a haunted house film.
In its own right, Livide is a very good horror film. I feel that if it would be directed by any other than the infamous duo behind À l'Intérieur, the film would get more praise. But the expectations are there and because suspenseful films are already few and far between these days some people will be too disappointed to appreciate Livide for what it aims to be. The only critique I have is that Bustillo and Maury could've been a bit clearer from the start, maybe shorten the intro a little as to dive quicker into the action. Apart from that, Livide is a superb horror flick that easily surpasses most of its peers. Watch it with an open mind and you'll see there is plenty to love and enjoy here.