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Switching gears after their gruesome debut feature, Inside(A l’interieur), French goremeisters Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo offer up a comparatively lightweight affair with the gothic horror flick, Livid (Livide). But while the duo has reduced the ketchup factor by at least 50% in this rather surreal mélange of ballet, taxidermy and vampirism, they’ve also cut down on the frights to the point that their doomed Gallic chateau seems about as scary as Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Strong production values and makeup effects will push Livid– which premiered in Toronto’sMidnight Madness section – beyond French borders into plenty of DVD bins. Dimension will release Stateside in 2012.
For a directing team whose first film revealed the torture-porn genre to be alive and well in France, it’s comforting to see a different sort of horror trope used this time around – one whose roots lie less with Eli Roth or Rob Zombie than with the likes of Dario Argento and Guillermo Del Toro. That said, and despite some moments of chilling beauty, Lividis a somewhat benign enterprise, and never builds enough momentum to keep viewers interested, let alone terrified.
In a gloomy seaside town in Brittany, a young nurse-in-training, Lucie (Chloe Coulloud), follows her creepy elder colleague (Catherine Jacob) on visits to various elderly patients. When they arrive at the abandoned manor of Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla), a witchlike former dance instructor in a permanent coma, Lucie gets wind of a treasure hidden somewhere in the house, and is coerced by her b.f. (Felix Moati) and guyfriend (Jeremy Kapone) to sneak back that night for some foraging.
The fact that it happens to be Halloween (as much as that means anything in France), and that the mansion’s extensive taxidermy collection makes the Bates Motel look like Toys “R” Us, doesn’t seem to pose a problem for the trio of scavengers, who foolishly venture inside and spend the rest of the movie running from an assortment of monsters: a reanimated Jessel, a group of razor-wielding ballerinas, and Jessel’s supposedly long-dead daughter (Chloe Marcq), who first appears as a stuffed human doll with her eyelids sewn together.
While the film’s pivotal horror scenes offer up very few actual scares, they do contain some impressive bits of set design (by Marc Thiebault), and an array of extremely visceral make-up effects from Gallic blood-squirt specialist Olivier Alonso (Colombiana, Hitman). Such accoutrements add punch to an otherwise lagging storyline, and provide for some thrillingly grisly scenes during the movie’s gory, yet somewhat risible (at least according to a recent Paris audience), finale.
As the cautious – but not too cautious – Lucie, Coulloud (Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life) gives a strong enough performance to make the shenanigans watchable. Moati and Kapone showed far more pizzazz together in 2008’s LOL, and appear as little more than receptacles for an onslaught of latex and corn syrup.
Opens: In France (December 7)
Production companies: La Fabrique 2, SND, La Ferme! Productions, Plug Effects, Tiberius Film
Cast: Chloe Coulloud, Felix Moati, Jeremy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Chloe Marcq, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Beatrice Dalle
Directors, screenwriters: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Producers: Verane Frediani, Franck Ribiere
Director of photography: Laurent Bares
Production designer: Marc Thiebault
Music: Raphael Gesqua
Costume designer: Martine Rapin
Sfx makeup: Olivier Afonso
Sales Agent: SND
No rating, 92 minutes
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