While a certain amount of the sensibility that made Inside such a relentless horror experience is present in Livid (2011), Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's long awaited follow-up, those expecting the same kind of bete noir will be disappointed. Livid is less concerned with linear narrative. Rather, it pursues its ghastly images through the looking glass into a bleak, poetic fantasy, while refusing to bend it to some rigid plot construction. The result is a dream fugue of a movie.
The movie is ostensibly about Lucie, a woman who is training to be a freelance caregiver to elderly patients. The first part of the movie finds her visiting patients with her superior, Catherine, learning the ropes. The last stop on their itinerary is the crumbling manse inhabited by the comatose Jessel, formerly a famed ballet instructor. Jessel, Catherine tells her, had a mute daughter who died young, and has a treasure secreted somewhere in her mansion. Lucie has a no-account boyfriend who is looking for a score to take him out of his life as a fisherman. He proposes that they return with a friend to find the treasure and run off to some better life. Once they break in, they discover that the house is haunted by the ghost of the woman's daughter, Anna, and that Jessel herself is not so comatose as they think. In fact, she's something of a monster herself...
Like most haunted house movies, this is a movie that's really about haunted people. Lucie carries with her the trauma of discovering her mother's suicide. The relationship between Jessel and Anna seems intended as a kind of demonic reflection of Lucie's relationship with her mother, though the movie is unclear on this point. Lucie also has heterochromia: Her eyes are different colors. Catherine suggests that this gives her two windows into the soul and that each window might see something different. Are we seeing the second half of the film from Lucie's other eye? The movie is vague on this, too. Livid is vague on a lot of things, and if you're looking for tidy horror movie explanations for what happens on screen, you might be out of luck. This is alternately a ghost movie, a vampire movie, a witch movie (that Jessel is a kind of demonic dance instructor is just one of the post modern references that provide the film with a deceiving map for a horror-savvy audience to follow into dead ends.
But, as I say, the filmmakers are up to something completely different. This is an oneiric horror movie, more concerned with the images it puts on the screen than in connecting them with one another. This kind of film is a kind of free association game with the audience, mining meanings from the audience rather than providing them. The imagery in this film is beautiful and horrible and haunting, whether it's watching Catherine dismember a little girl in her bathtub or a corresponding scene in which Lucie sits on the edge of the bathtub where she found her dead mother, the ghost of her mother reaching out to comfort her. The imagery isn't helter skelter. Most of it rhymes with other images elsewhere in the film, which encourages associations without explicitly connecting the dots. If Inside had its roots in the American splatter movie, this film is more akin to European horror fantasies like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders or Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast.
Which isn't to say that this doesn't provide red meat, because it totally does. As I say, the sensibility of Inside isn't totally absent, a fact underlined by the presence of Beatrice Dalle as Lucie's dead mother. There's a line of descent. The choice of fantasy images is particularly horrific, too, more so than you'd find anywhere in it's closest equivalents. The corpse dancer on a life sized music box, for instance, and the ghastly deaths of Lucie's fellow thieves. But even here there's a certain poetic sensibility. One of the victims finds himself murdered by shrouded ballerinas who dance around him with knives, which is horrible and beautiful in equal measure. Much like the film itself.
This shares, too, with Inside, an emphasis on the relationships between mothers and daughters. It's unusual to find male filmmakers with the kind of focus Bustillo and Maury place on a female sensibility. What male characters there are are the kind of chum that the horror genre it self often makes of its female characters. This is not a film about men, which is refreshing in itself. This is very much NOT a male gaze horror movie, and it's more artfully savage than many horror movies that are and let's all give thanks for that.
Current tally: 23 films.
17 first time viewings.