Alexandre Bustillo and Julian Maury – the duo who delivered the gut-punch that is Inside and the atmospheric Livid - make an exciting, vicious return with a film that channels the magic of child adventure-driven '80s fare and guts it with the savagery of an early Wes Craven film like The Hills Have Eyes. And although parallels can be drawn to Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, Among the Living has the spirit of Richard Laymon, an author who, to this day, has not been tapped by Hollywood for a film adaptation. This may be the closest thing to a Laymon film you'll get, save for the movie's lack of intense eroticism that can sometimes permeate Laymon's works.
Among the Living doesn't trump Inside in any way, but it's a big improvement over Livid. It's pretty relentless and to-the-point and it doesn't dawdle at all between scenes of carnage. Where you'll find a slasher film full of chase sequences that culminate in a bloody confrontation, Bustillo and Maury's film – which carries certain slasher tropes – is all confrontation and no chase. It all begins with a moment of sheer brutality (starring Béatrice Dalle now in the role of a pregnant woman, a big, nasty wink to Inside) that sets the stage for the film's villains and the unflinching violence we'll be subjected to.
Akin to films like The Goonies, Stand By Me and Explorers, we meet a trio of adolescent boys who cut the last day of school before summer break. After causing a bit of trouble, they make their way to Blackwoods, an abandoned film studio lot that welcomes the boys with open, ominous arms and houses a deranged father and deformed son who has a penchant for wearing a clown mask. A clash ensues and the boys retreat, but the cops are of no use because of…well, the kids are sort of assholes. And so, they return to their respective families unaware that the father and son lurking beneath Blackwoods are out for revenge.
Among the Living works quite well in its simplicity and adoration for the '80s. There's plenty of creepy/nightmarish imagery on display (best use of a cat door!) yet, to destabilize you, there are some moments you think would be big splatter moments that are surprisingly restrained. Still, Bustillo and Maury push a lot of buttons in what is a classic "clash of families" scenario. Kudos, too, to Raphaël Gesqua, who provided the score for Livid, returns for a haunting and beautiful soundtrack that relies on an eerie whistle theme that tips its hat to Just Before Dawn.
The film isn't too deep on a subtextual level, but it's a solid exercise in pure terror.