Honestly, this movie is only so-so until you get to the end. The last 5 minutes make up for all those moments of, “wait, what?” It reveals itself to be thoroughly surreal, and I love it so much for that. Blending Guillermo del Toro’s stylized settings and Dario Argento’s quirky characters, Livid creates a strange dreamlike confusion it never really attempts to resolve.
It’s unclear exactly what kind of horror movie Livid is going to be: a slasher, vampires, witches, ghosts? Turns out, it’s kinda all of those, capped with an oddly happy ending. There’s the fight between Will and Ben (during which Ben resembles Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th: Part II), the ghostly ballerina girls who kill Ben in the doorless room, the house itself resembling a remote witches’ domain, as well as Jessel’s ability to make the characters have visions or succumb to hypnosis.
Livid most closely resembles a spin on vampire mythology. Former dance instructor Jessel is in torpor. Her familiar Catherine Wilson kills children and keeps a blood feedbag full for her. Later, Jessel attacks Ben, biting his head and drinking his blood. Jessel shares visions of her daughter Anna’s life with Lucie. Anna bites the neck of another student and tries to run away only to decay once the sun shines through the clouds outside.
When Lucie first meets Wilson, she notices Lucie’s heterochromia, “Each eye’s a different soul. The soul can come and go through each portal.” Lucie’s soul does leave her body later in the film, but it isn’t via her eyes. I wonder if this little comment was just there to make us see Lucie as conflicted—torn on how to proceed, as she is throughout the entirety of this movie. Until the end.
Honestly, aside from the homages to the different horror sub-genres, I haven’t a ton of thoughts about the movie. I don’t think it’s particularly deep or has a whole lot to say. It’s just a very creepy horror movie, until it becomes a very pretty fairy tale, and that’s all I really needed it to be. I’m oddly happy for Lucie—the only reason she wanted to break into that house in the first place was so she could get away. Whether that meant moving out before her dad’s new flame moves in or making a whole new life for herself somewhere entirely different is unclear, but also mostly irrelevant.
After Jessel implants a giant cockroach in Lucie’s stomach and another in Anna’s neck, butterflies float from their mouths and fly into the others. As they open their eyes, we see that Anna and Lucie’s souls have switched bodies. I wonder if the non-medical explanation Wilson gave to Lucie about her eyes made her the perfect subject for this kind of soul exchange. Had Jessel and Wilson been waiting to find someone they could put Anna’s soul inside? Either way, lucky for Lucie, Anna wants to escape the house too. After a series of struggles to kill Jessel, the two of them ultimately succeed and head outside.
Prior to watching this, I’d seen writer/directors Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo films Inside and Leatherface (which they didn’t write, so it’s not their fault it’s terrible), but now I’m definitely gonna watch all the other stuff they’ve written and directed. This movie is an absolutely wild ride that goes completely off the rails the longer it plays. It’s clear that these filmmakers have a lot of love for horror films, with so many nods to other horror films throughout: the slaughtered lamb pub from An American Werewolf in London, the three halloween costumes from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the name Jessel from The Innocents, the cocoons Jessel puts in the two girls resemble the bugs in Silence of the Lambs, and (this one might be a stretch, but) the car looks very similar to the one in Death Proof. There’s probably even more I didn’t pick up on…
They initially intended to make this an English language film, but after they felt they were losing creative control, they decided to take a loss on funding and move the film to France with a smaller production company. Unfortunately, these budget restraints obviously detracted from the scenes with the potential for real visceral gore. However, this relative tameness means it’s a film I would recommend to anyone who’s a fan of horror. Livid differs from most other New French Extremity films, in that it has a far more uplifting ending than a majority of them.
But I can’t deny that having these reductions in budget and moving the project to a smaller production company negatively impacted the film. At times the special effects were really bad: for example, most of the makeup on the eyes to make them look stitched shut just looked very clearly like something sitting on the actors faces, rather than giving the impression that they actually had their eyelids sewn shut—the potential for a truly horrific image dashed by production.
True, I enjoyed the movie despite this; I can easily understand finding this seeming lack of attention to detail bothersome and not enjoying the film because of it. It’s unfortunate that the filmmakers pursued this kind of visual, rather than focusing more so on the things they were clearly doing well. So much of the film is so dreamlike and filled with misdirection, so when the camera lingers on a knife cutting a wet piece of latex (meant to be a stomach), it just hits wrong. Imagine instead focusing the camera on Lucie’s face as her stomach is cut open and that gross bug is inserted, or showing a more distant point of view, allowing audiences to see the entire scene in all its potential.
No, the film doesn’t make much sense. So much of the action challenges the audience to make sense of why anyone is acting the way they are: Why is Jessel sharing expository visions with Lucie, why does Lucie waffle constantly on whether they should leave or keep going, why do the ballerinas continue to beat Ben’s body after having slit his throat? The movie begins in a very real way: Lucie is picked up by Wilson for her training shifts in the caretaking field. But as it continues, fewer and fewer of the onscreen actions make sense, culminating in Lucie’s joyful skyward drift.
Once Lucie and Anna attempt to escape the house and find they’re floating in space, I realized everything’s just weird and illogical. And honestly, that’s fine. Everything doesn’t have to make sense. It’s still a perfectly enjoyable movie to watch. So much of the movie is style over substance, but the style is so much fun that I don’t even care. It’s a creepy vampire movie turned fairy tale, and that’s good enough for me.