Friday, 27 April 2012
BFF FILM REVIEW: Livide
It's quite a feat when the Q&A session with the director turns out to be more interesting than the feature film that's shown before - sadly that's the case for Livide, my second film at this year's Bradford Film Festival, a French fantasy/horror film that was supposed to be a homage to Hammer and lighting a candle to Guillermo Del Toro but ends up dissolving into fractionally hilarious guff.
Chloé Coulloud (cute) plays Lucie, a young girl who we join on her first day shadowing a home care nurse, Wilson (Catherine Jacob). Treating the elderly and infirm in their homes, Lucie's day is straightforward enough with quietly enjoyable banter between her and her employer, and a knack for the job - though Lucie herself seems reserved and sullen. Their last stop is at an old mansion off the beaten track where Wilson tells Lucie to stay in the car - she's not ready for this patient yet. Bored and curious, Lucie eventually follows her into the house and discovers Madam Jessel, a woman of over 100 years old who is being kept alive by blood transfusions and an oxygen mask. Wilson tells her that she used to be a dance teacher, but now she is left all alone after her only daughter, Anna, died years ago. There's also something else intriguing about the old lady - she is very rich, and has treasure stashed in the house somewhere, though Wilson has never been able to find it. Later that night, Lucie meets with her boyfriend Will (Félix Moati) and his brother Ben (Jérémy Kapone) and once she tells them about the treasure, Will is intent on breaking into the mansion and stealing it, to make a better life for all of them. Lucie is annoyed by his attitude and goes home where she is met by her father, who informs her the woman he has been dating will be moving into their home. Lucie is furious - it's only been eight months since her mother killed herself. Feeling miserable, she phones Will to tell him she will join him in going to the old lady's house to find the treasure so they set off the beaten track to find a way in. Oh and of course it's also Halloween night. Of course it is! Let's go break into a spooky old mansion on Halloween where there's an old lady on the top floor who looks like this:
YEAH THAT'S A GREAT IDEA.
Contrary to the predictable horror tropes - this is what it's trying to be of course - the first 10-15 minutes of Livide are actually very strong indeed. The setting is appropriately terrifying, our main protagonist is interesting (within the genre limitations of course - dead mother, check; infuriating boyfriend, check; slightly odd but key morphological trait - two different coloured eyes, check) and there are glimpses of the unexplained - Wilson murdering a young girl on her way home. There's all the potential there for a suspense filled, highly entertaining haunted house story.
And there's a few jumps at first as the three are exploring the house downstairs, searching for the treasure and coming across all matter of eerie taxidermy and eventually stumbling onto a locked room - and Lucie recalls the old lady upstairs has a key around her neck. So they decide to go up and take it from her.
HELLO, you do remember she looks like this?
But they go up anyway. This is when I started to get girlishly unsettled (I hid behind my hands a bit) as she leans forward to take the key and you're just waiting for the old woman's eyes to flick open, or her hand to grab her. It reminded me a lot of Dorothy going to get the magic powder from Mumbi in Return to Oz and her head waking up - murghhhh! But nothing happens - and they safely get away. It's a false alarm, but I enjoyed that bluff - made me think we were in safe hands with the directors. After the immediate rush to break into the mansion (the first night of Lucie's new job - I would have liked to have lingered longer with her character and Wilson, and get more of a build up before they decide to do it), it seems as though they are happy to tease us a bit and ready us for the big scare.
But things go downhill from there. Inside the locked room we discover Anna, Jessel's daughter, a corpse strung up as a live music box ballerina. She's surrounded by a creepy doll's tea party, only with stuffed animals instead of dolls. It all sounds hideous, but instead of caving in with fear, what do our trusted heroes do? They punch the corpse. YOU DON'T PUNCH A CORPSE. Then obviously a raft of bad things start happening - banging noises, the house shudders, and they run down the stairs to escape to realise they've been locked in.
At this moment, you would be beside yourself with terror, acting irrationally and crazed, unable to think clearly and becoming paranoid. But these three seem remarkably calm, and decide the best thing to do is go back upstairs and try and get out of the window in the old lady's room - where they discover her bed is empty. YET THEY DON'T QUESTION THIS! No, they just dismiss it and carry on trying to get the window open, which is obviously barricaded. She's over 100, been in a coma for years, can only survive on a drip and an oxygen machine, yet now she's got up and walked off. YOU WOULD BE MORE SCARED THAN THAT.
YOU DO REMEMBER SHE LOOKS LIKE THIS.
Unretractable spoilers ahead, peeps.
The brother, Ben, then gets separated from the group by apparently travelling through a mirror in the old lady's room, as we catch a quick glimpse of her behind him (this should have been more scary than it was). He is transported to a room without any doors, and is bludgeoned to death by young girls dressed as ballerinas who appear out of thin air. It was at this precise moment that I relaxed, and realised Livide wasn't going to be nearly as night-botheringly terrifying as promised. This is a cardinal sin in horror. You should never be allowed to relax - constant dread always, and they fail to do this. The boyfriend is next to follow, in a hilarious encounter with back from the dead Ben, who is covered in blood with a pillowcase over his head, Will proceeds to strike up a conversation with him about where he's been anyway. He's soon dispatched, this time by the old lady who has morphed into a sort of banshee witch, and takes a good glug on his brains.
Lucie meanwhile, has been trapped inside Jessel's daughter's bedroom, and starts getting flashbacks into what life was like here many years ago - we discover Jessel's daughter was banned from the ballet training her mother would give to other young girls, but picked off strays to feed on their flesh. So she's a vampire then? It would seem so, as when she tries to escape from her mother and the house her skin begins to crack up like dried earth in the sunshine and she collapses. But then we get another scene where Jessel is mending her daughter who appears to have a large clockwork contraption in her back - so now she's a clockwork Pinocchio Frankenstein vampire child? It's all so confusing. And then Wilson appears and knocks Lucie unconscious - the flashback shows who she really is: one of the young students of Jessel, who discovered their secret and now helps to keep the old lady alive by killing people and draining their blood for her transfusions. The tale about the treasure was just a ruse to get Lucie to come back to the house so herself and Jessel can go through with their final plan: to switch the bodies of Lucie and Anna so Jessel's daughter can be alive again.
It makes sense it that crazy far-fetched fantastical way, but the problem here it's not inventive or creative enough to scare nor to enchant. If you think of films such as Pan's Labyrinth or Drag Me To Hell, these are films which are satisfyingly creepy - Livide is trying so desperately to tick all the boxes and tip its cap to all the seminal moments of horror that it forgets to be itself and forge its own mark. There are snapshots of brilliance - when Anna's corpse comes to life as a ballerina figurine, her eyes stitched shut as she jabs around for Lucie; the old lady quietly sat amongst the stuffed animals at the doll's tea party table; lots of throwbacks to objects placed in earlier scenes - fingernails, scissors, window, pillowcase, fire with clever follow-throughs. But there's more missteps - the ending which is just WTF-ed to the max, as the girls - now in each other's bodies - work together to kill Jessel and Wilson, but can't escape the house because it's floating in the sky (how did they break in in the first place, then?!). And when they do escape, they go to the beach where Lucie - as Anna - throws herself off a cliff and ends up floating into the clouds, as Anna - as Lucie - goes home to her "new" family. Is this because Lucie can only be happy in death so she can be with her mother, and Anna has finally escaped her horrible mother and can live a normal life as Lucie? None of this is ever properly conveyed to us as an audience, I'm just grasping plausible straws here.
I wish they'd stayed with pure horror as they had an amazingly strong, terrifying set up that was just wasted by descending into fantasy mess, clunkily and extraneously listing fairy tale motifs of step mother, witch, castle, woods, evil old woman, animals, dancing and greed. Lots of gore for the sake of it too - as Jessel just will not die, Anna and Lucie resort to ripping off her face from the jaw... nice.
Livide is a true Frankenstein movie that it would probably be proud of, made up of the parts of lots of other movies, but it's just too silly to be taken seriously. The Q&A was fascinating though - did you know directors Julien Maury (who was in attendence) and Alexandre Bustillo were all set to make Halloween, Hellraiser and A Nightmare on Elm Street remakes before Hollywood stepped in and took it away from them in various ways? Good to know Michael Bay - who refused to let them re-write the terrible Elm Street remake of last year - is actually a dick by action and not just by reputation, eh?