I was floored when I first watched the modern classic of French Horror Inside by the director team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo. I thought they were geniuses and bringing back all the life and beauty missing in today's horror films. Having watched their followup Livide, I'm convinced they are still exceptionally talented but haven't matured past that first masterpiece.
Livide your typical post-modern horror movie for the wannabe arthouse crowd: Hipster girl gets creepy job no sane person would take, makes bad choices, spooky house, old ladies, porcelain dolls, creepy kids, feminism, gore fx, supernatural twist, ridiculous surreal ending. Its gorgeously shot, modestly acted and carelessly written except for the big M. Night Shamalan inspired ending. Unlike the awesome Inside, Livide is indicative of the worst trends of this generation of promising filmmaking: its way too concerned with "Realism", making an artistic statement and the romantic lighting and composition of shots and not at all concerned with logic, originality or capturing an audience. It doesn't try to move you emotionally or entertain or experiment in any real, dangerous ways, but wants an E for "Effort". The movie jumps from plot point to plot point with flashy camerawork, overly-aware hipness and no reflection of anything real or important.
The film asks to be compared with the work of Dario Argento, Jean Rollin and Tobe Hooper's excellent The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the directors shot the upcoming prequel Leatherface). These are honorable heights to aspire to and, while Maury & Bustillo don't come close to any of these directors' best films, watching them fail is interesting. It never comes off scary or brilliant or magical as those films, nor as genuinely insane. But they are well-read film school grads, for sure. Unfortunately, they don't create as much as mimic well. They mimic their heroes and their own past work, without saying anything new. Ironically, they echo the cheapest, least inspired work of all three horror masters, as much as their best.
Like Inside, Livide is a violent slasher/giallo hybrid with some modern poetic flourishes and solid technical work for such minuscule budgeting. Both films have a decided feminine quality from top to bottom and deal with the themes of duality, kindred spirits, dark destiny and horrific acts of transcendence. While the first film worked because of a tight, intimate story and a lean minimalist style, the sophomore effort crumbles under the obsession with atmospheric and beautiful cinematography, which becomes ultimately distracting and boring. The story is far less interesting this time around, with a rather flat and unsympathetic heroine and a stupidly supernatural twist that isn't properly set up. The climax puts things back on track, being both original and creating cohesion,, but you really stopped caring by then and its just an act of pretentious, self indulgent "artsy" filmmaking. Maury & Bustillo could have focused on character or truly disturbing realities of this fairytale world, instead of set pieces and winks to hardcore horror movie fans.
Inside worked because the story fit the style. Livide is the same story, with more style and less substance. Its obvious that Maury & Bustillo are not so much storytellers or artists as stylists who were happy to work on another exploitative horror film. They ran out of ideas with the first film, so they just switched the cliches around. Its a lot of pretentious fluff with two talents masturbating to old horror movie staples with a poetic symbol thrown in so the critics can't bash them too harshly. I don't know if audiences will buy it or not. I was thoroughly bored because I know the difference between art and "art". This is exploitation. Which is well and good if it wasn't trying to sell itself as something important or deep and admitted that its simply a competent, dressed up exploitation film (like Tobe Hooper's inferior but beloved Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). In retrospect, Inside was rather shallow and pointless too. But it was a lot more new, honest and fun than this was. Livide is the "S. Darko" to Inside's "Donnie Darko" (though I'm underselling the former and overselling the latter in that comparison).
I had high hopes for the duo's upcoming Leatherface but this shakes things up a bit. Maybe they are great and just fell off the path. Maybe they are just lucky, persuasive hacks. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is already full of bad, cheesy, pretentious slasher movies for faux-deep fans. And Maury & Bustillo can't do much harm after the abysmal, braindead but cute Texas Chainsaw 3D. And with the good script, budget and inspiration that Livide lacked, I trust the boys can make the first "Chainsaw" movie since the original to be an actually scary art movie. They've shown great promise, its just not so much in Livide.