Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
The latest flick from Inside and Livid co-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury starts on admirably grim form with a brutal introduction that sees the heavily pregnant Jeanne Faucheur (Béatrice Dalle popping up in a short role) attempt to murder her husband and unseen “monster” of a son. She doesn’t quite manage to complete the deed, however, and so turns the knife on herself, prompting the husband, Isaac (Renaud), to take his son and newly extracted baby on the road.
Flash forward some time – it’s the last day of school before the summer holidays and twelve-year-old tearaway trio Victor (Fernandez), Dan (Ferdel) and Tom (Chasseriaud) decide that they can’t be bothered finishing this particular day in the confines of the classroom and take off at lunch time to pursue their own jollies. Said jollies involve sitting in a field smoking and talking, attempting to burn down a local farmer’s barn, and heading to the nearby abandoned Blackwood Studios film set to break a few windows and generally act like rotten little shits. While there, however, they come across a parked car containing a bound and gagged woman in the trunk who is then dragged off by a hulking figure in a tattered coat and clown mask.
Disbelieved by the authorities due to their rightfully earned reputation, the boys are retired to their respective homes unaware that the malevolent killers who now inhabit Blackwood know where they live and are coming to silence them forever.
What seems set up to be a heavily atmospheric shocker unfortunately does little but tread water from this point, as the monstrous child from the beginning, Klarence (Jegoudez), arrives at each homestead to stalk and murder the occupants. Where both Inside and Livid offered much to elevate them above standard genre fare (Inside in its sheer brutality and Livid its fairytale nightmare aesthetic), Among the Living is marred by a restraint that betrays its earlier promises. The three lead characters are, in the beginning, such insufferable little cretins that it really is difficult not to think that they deserve everything that’s coming to them. This does improve as the story moves on, but they aren’t ever fully redeemed (well, those still alive by the end).
Stalk and kill scenes play out in disappointingly basic style, with directors Bustillo and Maury even resorting to the old urban legend scare story of the babysitter commenting on a clown doll sitting amongst the stuffed animals of a child’s room – “But I don’t have a clown,” is the response. Of course. Much is made in the introduction of the film about the awful hereditary effects of chemical use during warfare – Agent Orange in Vietnam, for example – in a manner that seems to promise the appearance of a heavily mutated, brutal villain. Alas, that is not to be with Klarence instead being revealed as giant, nude albino-like figure. His behaviour is suitably shocking, though, including a rather disturbing placement for a small baby and choking someone to death with his bare foot.
While Among the Living certainly looks and sounds fantastic (though a slight easing up on the blue hues might have been welcome), and delivers some excellent gore when it decides to go that far, it’s simply far too pedestrian an entry to the genre to stand out in any manner. The lead characters are too difficult to connect with – even the adults – and make some seriously absurd decisions, including leaving momentarily incapacitated villains alive when they could have finished them off and had it all done with, on more than one occasion! Similar to Livid, the score is a nicely fitting mix of fairytale wonder and malevolence that complements the images very well.
Among the Living is technically as good as can be expected from two directors with a superior vision but falls over badly with its narrative of unlikeable protagonists, uninventive villains and a reluctance to push the limits as much as it seems to want to. A real misstep for two of the most exciting directors in the genre at the moment.
2 out of 5