Fantastic Fest 2011 Review: Livid (Livide)
by Britt Hayes
The writing and directing team of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are responsible for arguably one of the best horror films in recent memory: Inside (À l’intérieur). With Inside, the duo created a tense, violent home invasion film that touched upon themes of obsession, motherhood, and loss. With Livid, they’ve returned with more of a fever dream than a film — a film that serves as a meditation on, again, overcoming loss, but perhaps more than the haunted house story the surface suggests.
Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) is a woman overcoming the suicide of her mother, seemingly aiding the process by working as an at-home nurse for the invalid elderly. When she encounters Madame Jessel, a former ballet instructor in a coma with alleged hidden riches in the depths of her crumbling mansion, Lucie, her boyfriend, and his brother decide to break in late at night to find and steal the treasure. Unfortunately for the trio, Madame Jessel’s home is haunted both psychically and emotionally by her ostensibly deceased daughter, Anna. As Lucie encounters Anna over and over again, the film becomes more and more of a jarring, abstract dream that peels back layers to reveal parallels between Lucie and Anna (Chloé Marcq).
Livid is an incredibly mature sophomore effort from Bustillo and Maury, a pair whose previous effort was confrontational and distressing. Here they’ve made a film that speaks to grief in a way that is wholly unique and startling. The film employs nightmare logic to graceful effect, beginning with Madame Wilson (Lucie’s boss, played by Catherine Jacob) noting the heterochromia (an absence of pigment in the iris of the eye) and how this indicates a duality of souls in Lucie.
The film plays out as if Bustillo and Maury have fully realized and translated a dream to the screen; while it feels incredibly futile to try to explain a dream to someone — often what we remember is fragmented and too abstract to convey in words — Bustillo and Maury create a truly immersive experience that feels as if the viewer is not only witnessing the dream, but sharing it entirely.
There is a central mythology concocted in the film that, while a fresh take on an old standard, is hardly the most compelling aspect within. It may be easy to dismiss Livid as disjointed and abstract (or even slightly confusing), but it’s a surreal nightmare that explores killing that which haunts you and alleviating your despair. When Lucie and Anna begin to interact, there’s little in the way of dialogue, allowing the two to connect on a furiously emotional level.
Livid has little traditional narrative and most of the plot developments occur abruptly with little warning or lead-in; while not every moment feels metaphorical or analogous, there’s an honesty to the presentation — dreams are often manifestations of our subconscious feelings and thoughts, and as such provide little context or clarity. We remember dreams more clearly in feeling than in action, and Livid is a beautiful play on that notion that seems to live in the moment rather than fuss with typical plot structuring.
Perhaps one of the most original horror films made in years, Livid is a true experience — a total stream of consciousness presentation, evocative of a haunting fairy tale. More interestingly and importantly, it cares more about connecting with its audience emotionally than having “something to say.”