Let us pretend that one fortuitous day Dario Argento woke up and was hit on the head with a coconut. This coconut hit had the happy effect of reversing an early hit to the head with a coconut that occurred some years earlier right after post production on Opera and thus Gilligan’s Island style Argento reverted back to his old self and remembered how to make a fucking film. It is not unfeasible that he would go on to make something very like Livid.
Livid was by far the film with the most mixed reaction at Fantastic Fest. The people who loved it fell head over heels with it, the people who hated it didn’t just hate it, they wanted you to know that they hated it. Unmotivated exclamations of “Boy did I hate Livid!!” could be heard far and wide throughout The Drafthouse Lobby.
By all rights I should have been one of them. I don’t think much of the so called French New Wave of horror, including the directors previous film Inside (Livid itself takes a very funny and effective swipe at the “killer kids” films that have popped up in the movement like weeds in the wake of Them.) But Livid is something truly different. You can count me on the loved it (or at least liked it a whole lot) side of the equation. Though I have to admit that the extreme polarization on this film is confusing to me. Walking into the film after hearing the advanced word I was expecting some sort of actively aggressive anti-narrative to rival The Holy Mountain.
Instead Livid seems to be deliberately simple. Some things happen in it that “don’t make sense” to be sure, but they don’t make sense (or perhaps a better way to phrase it is they make deeper sense) in the way a fairytale or a dream does. Last Year At Marienbad this is not.
Livid follows a young girl who is spending two weeks volunteering as a nurse. She is taken to the home of an elderly woman in a coma. There is something of an urban legend about the woman, who was once a famous dancer, a rumor that she hid a great treasure in her home. When she mentions this to her doofus working class boyfriend he of course gets very excited and plans to rob the house along with his equally doofus friend. Though the girl first resists, she’s dealing with pressures of her own and decides to go along with the break in.
So far so simple, but once our trio makes it into the house things become a little less so. It quickly becomes apparent that things in the house play by different rules, and as they venture deeper and deeper into its dark heart the consequences grow more and more exacting. It’s a great haunted house movie Livid builds an atmosphere of decay, dread and unease that is all its own, with twisted imagery and horrific implications. It builds a feeling of such originality in fact that it is disappointing when in its final bend, to see it sell itself short both in concept (“We don’t know just what these people are that’s unsettling… Oh wait no turns out they’re vampires.”) and imagery (including those damn killer kids that the movie so effectively satirized early). These and a few other flaws (there’s an early encounter in the house that I’m pretty sure would make any sentient individual shit their britches that the kids just brush off) knock Livid down from great to pretty darn good.
Oh well, C’est La Vi, as the countrymen say. Livid might not be perfect but it’s awful damn good, which sets it far above the majority of its competition. It’ll stay with you.