Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) has a new job, as a care worker who visits the patients in their homes. She accompanies Catherine (Catherine Jacob) on her rounds and is taught the basics of health-care for the elderly. Inside an impressive château resides M. Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla), a aged widow who is confined to her bedroom and dependent on a life support machine. M. Jessel used to be a ballet instructor and, although she cannot communicate directly to the care workers, Catherine reveals that M. Jessel still recalls her dead daughter and, despite the apparent terminal nature of her condition, her wealth is enough to ensure significant long-term medical treatment. There is also the question of substantial treasure that is assumed to be located somewhere in the immense château. Lucie mentions these potential riches to her boyfriend William (Félix Moati) when he comes back from his fishing job and he devises a plan whereby the pair, together with his brother Ben (Jérémy Kapone), burgle the house and steal the goods. A night robbery is ideal as no one other than the immobile, uncommunicative M. Jessel will be there. The three break into the property to seek their fortune, but inevitably things are going to go seriously wrong and a series of mysterious, bizarre and horrific events will occur with apparently no opportunity to escape the ghastly situation.
Livide initially appears to be a drama with some commentary on the social care system but it’s not long before it shifts direction, through a number of dreams, images and indications, signposting that things are going to get very bad and very scary indeed. This is a film that uses its cinematography to great purpose, making the gothic architecture of the château more ominous but also contrasting the apparent normality of the dialogue and character driven scenes with depictions of the horrors that are waiting to be revealed. And what horrors they are and what a variety of means used in their revelation, combining gorno-style scenes with those of artistic gothic and some impressive use of well directed and dynamic camerawork.
As the ‘thank you messages’ at the end credits suggest, Livide is fully aware of its horror inspirations (rather like the similarly scary Amer (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani )) which include such luminaries as Dario Argento and George A. Romero. Indeed some of the elaborate art-horror-cinematography is reminiscent of Argento at his most ostentatious although the differing styles manage to complement the film’s supernatural surprises. So there are puppetry scares that recall films by master of gothic animation Jan Svankmajer as well as ghostly recollections and an abundance of increasingly graphic brutality. In this respect the combination of high art and bloodshed make this a fantasy story for adults, a gothic fairy tale for the modern age, with traditional spectral scares. Livide is a graphic horror film that is, at times, shocking and in a way that has become quite common in a post-gorno era, partly because of its combination of carefully defined mise-en-scene showing a clear love of 1970’s cinema as well as residing in a post Silent Hill /Resident Evil videogame horror world. Of course the last decade or so have seen a number of excellent graphic French horrors, notably Inside (À l’intérieur ) – by Livide’s directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, Martyrs (2008) and Alexandre Aja’s Switchblade Romance (Haute tension ).
For those seeking horror that is well made, beautifully shot and well acted, offering the sense of the new for those familiar with the genre, Livide comes highly recommended. For those seeking action or who can’t stand gore, then for all its positive aspects this is not for you.