Review of French Film ‘Livide’
Deja Vu. A poetic, disturbing foreign horror film is scheduled to be remade in an English-language version by American filmmakers. Many will assume the result will end up mediocre. If it does not, some fans will argue endlessly that it shouldn’t have been made anyway, that the finished version is a cheapened copy of the original, etc. Look at how people responded to The Ring (based on the Japanese Ringu) or to Let Me In (second adaptation of the Swedish novel Let The Right One In). This time the film in question hails from France. Its title: Livide.
Lucie (Chloe Coullard), our central character, is training to be an at-home nurse. She has eyes of two colors. Both of these have a lot of meaning in the film. The eyes for example, as her supervisor notes, are said to mean she has two souls. Interestingly, we get a pretty clear hint early on this might be true–or at least she can see things others do not. Her dead mother, for example. And on her first day of training, an old man asks her to tell his granddaughter to come visit (said granddaughter is dead).
More importantly, she visits a wonderfully spooky old mansion. At first sight it seems just your garden variety old, faded, generic creepy kind of place. But the patient, she herself present the first clue of just how bizarre this place might be. Deborah Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietralla), an ancient former ballet teacher, lies in a coma and receives regular transfusions of blood. Her uncut nails now resemble claws. Lucie’s supervisor suggests she randomly pick a book from the huge bookcase in the woman’s bedchamber (really too grand to be called a mere bedroom). When she does, a moth flies out. Then the supervisor makes a point of repeating stories of how Madame Jessel hid a fortune in gold and jewels somewhere in the house.
Once we meet Lucie’s somewhat shiftless boyfriend Will (Felix Moati), we learn he is desperately poor as well as not that ethical nor competent (he spent a few months in jail for stealing a t.v. from a police officer’s garage). That, and the fact they know about the Jessel mansion, as a place children used to scare each other daring themselves to approach, we pretty much know what’s going to happen. Or at least what will happen next. Reluctantly, the unhappy Lucie agrees to go with Will and their friend Ben to the mansion one night and look for the treasure.
They do this on Halloween. Perfect.
Soon enough they find this mansion is orders of magnitude creepier than it seemed at first. Dolls and taxidermy in any great numbers tend to disturb, especially at night. When they are fused together, we’ve entered into a new level of eerie. Then they find the locked door…
I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice to say Madame Jessel is a vampire. No doubt you’ve already figured that out! But more importantly, so is her daughter, Anna (Chloe Marq) and in many ways this house is not only a lair of the undead but a trap for someone who can be used to resurrect Anna. Someone special. Someone, perhaps, with two souls! But even saying that much does really convey all of what is going on here. For example, the relationship between mother and daughter is much more complex than one might at first suppose. Not least the fact that Anna seems different from her mother, almost as if she were in some sense made by the latter in some sort of quasi-alchemical experiment.
Even more than that, however, the house seems increasingly otherworldly as the movie continues. Almost as if it were some kind of mystical nexus like a fairymound or something similar to a hellmouth from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Again, giving away too many details would spoil it, but suffice to say it seemed right that when Ben gets lost, he finds himself in an operating room–but one that somehow doesn’t have any doors! So how did he get in? His reaction, a bone-deep blend of bafflement and terror, feels exactly right. The acting in the film overall remains excellent.
So how might an American remake turn out? Well, based on prior examples, some questions might well be answered that this film leaves open. Not necessarily a bad thing. If transplanted into an American setting, the location should prove interesting. The deep south? Upstate New York? One of the small desert towns in the southwest, especially if not too far from a major city like Los Angeles or Las Vegas? Would it end up more or less gory? Because this one has plenty of blood and lots of violence. Some of it very, very strange.
I suppose one thing that sticks with me more than anything is how this vampire film, unlike (strangely enough) most such, actually feels supernatural. Vampires usually come across as relentless physical beings with very strict rules which might not be understood but once known seem solid enough. But more impressive (at least to my mind) are those which suggest magic as more slippery, less mechanical, rather chaotic. By the same token, to make such stories work filmmakers usually have to reproduce a gritily realistic “feel” to serve as contrast. Livide certainly does that! The level of detail helps make the film all the more impressive–and the fantasy elements increasingly fantastical as a result.