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Livid

A Fantastic Fest 2011 review

Livid is about the most frustrating movie-going experience of Fantastic Fest.

There’s no getting around it, it’s a tremendous let-down given the fact it’s directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the promising French duo who knocked us out with the positively wicked Inside. Livid marks a decided departure from the Grand Guignol-esque wet thrills of their previous effort. But they’ve hit the sophomore slump. Here, they trade in the excessiveness of Inside for a plodding, gorgeous-looking fairy tale that merges vampire and haunted house sub-genres. It works itself, however, into a narratively confused rut that it never quite recovers from.

But, man, it sure does look good falling apart at the seams.

The set-up is strong. Lucie, a young woman working her way into the field of health care, ventures out on her first day of a new job shadowing an in-home nurse who takes care of the elderly. The gig involves traveling to various homes and it’s an honest job. But it’s one that’s quickly soured when Lucie’s boyfriend convinces her to break into the mansion of one of her clients, a former ballerina instructor who lost her daughter and, later, slipped into a coma. With a friend in tow, Lucie and her man find their way into the musty manse in search of rumored treasure. What they slowly discover is a nightmarish tapestry of creepy dolls, automatons, spooky house shenanigans and the troubled history of its ancient resident.

You can’t say Livid runs on auto-pilot. While the story certainly feels traditional “kids get more than they bargained for in a creepy ol’ house,” how it is constructed is like a sloppy patchwork quilt of everything Maury and Bustillo love about the genre (including An American Werewolf in London and Halloween III: Season of the Witch, apparently, as they throw in a loving reference to that sequel).

The set-up immediately draws you in as we’re introduced to the honest, smart Lucie, a girl haunted by the death of her mother who aspires to live a better life. But once the trio arrives at the house, it’s a muddle affair peppered with awkward flashbacks and equally intrusive ideas that do not mesh. The best thing I can thematically liken Livid to is that house on the block that is decorated in every imaginable Halloween decoration you can think of. It’s garish and unfocused, unlike another Halloween escapade Trick ‘r Treat.

Maury and Bustillo channel a bit of Hammer for sure, as was their intention, one will also recognize aspects of Lucio Fulci and the baroque nature of William Malone’s House on Haunted Hill. It also finds time to deviate into signature Guillermo del Toro weirdness involving mechanical devices. But none of it adds up. The creepy, but not especially scary, Livid distracts itself with as many concepts as possible and punishes an audience, hungry for greatness, in the process.