Livid is best described as a horrific fairy tale, laced with familiar horror movie traits. Recruited as an in-house nurse, teenager Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) tends to the comatose Mrs Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla) in her dilapidating mansion. Presented with the information that deep within the confines of Mrs Jessel’s sprawling home is some form of hidden treasure, Lucie, her boyfriend William (Félix Moati) and his brother Ben (Jérémy Kapone) sneak back into the house one evening in an attempt to track down the fabled trove of loot. Unbeknownst to Lucy and her wide-eyed cohorts, their snooping endeavours will reveal the dark, supernatural history the house possesses. A sanctuary to bizarre rituals and cruel captivity, a great many atrocities have been committed in this home, and will be relived for the (dis)pleasure of the unwelcome guests.
Sitting uncomfortably between a routine haunted house venture and an experimental art house horror film, Livid is a perplexing little french film. The first forty minutes of exposition is languished and irksome, trying to create suspense from the wafer thin plotting. We see the naive Lucie going about her work routine, wandering up and down Mrs Jessel’s mansion just waiting for something horrifying to happen, but it never does. The result is exhausting, with filmmaking duo Bustillo and Maury really testing the audiences patience and willingness to continue watching.
So with the slow burn first half done and dusted, the stage is all set for all hell to break loose. From the moment the evil that haunts the halls of Livid’s creepy mansion is revealed, the film takes on an entirely different tone. The decidedly old school approach it took in the first half quickly evaporates in favour for a far more artistic feel, looking like a macabre tea party, or gory last meal. An entirely new overarching narrative is introduced that revolves around the former balletic tenants of the house. As a result of this brave new direction the narrative takes, the flow of film is interrupted by constant flashbacks which are neither scary, exciting or relevant, serving only to complicate the already sagging narrative.
As one would hope from a horror movie, there are some gruesome and terrifying moments in Livid, but they are infrequent and unsuccessful when compared to Bustillo and Maury’s previous body-horror film Inside. Dropping the relentless gore, the filmmaking duo seem to be channelling the wicked energy and fantastical charm of Guillermo Del Toro’s mesmerising Pan’s Labyrinth or even Bayona’s El Orfanato from 2007. Unlike these inevitable influences, the pair have failed to balance visual decadence with a compelling story.
Despite some moments of chilling beauty, Livid lacks is a somewhat benign enterprise, and never builds enough momentum to keep viewers compelled, let alone terrified.