(A.k.a. AUX YEUX DES VIVANTS)
A chilling prologue shows war veteran Isaac (Francis Renaud) sat in his usual living room armchair, watching a TV programme about how bio-weapons have caused exposed soldiers to pass on mutated genes to their offspring. This subject is clearly close to home and is too much for his heavily pregnant wife Jeanne (Beatrice Dalle), who takes to walloping him with a baseball bat.
She then saunters upstairs with a knife, calling for her son Klarence to show himself. "I've put up with you for four years" she whimpers as she attempts to stab the deformed manchild. When Isaac stops her, she turns the knife on herself and her unborn child.
Fleeing the scene in their car, Isaac tells Klarence (Fabien Jegoudez) that they now need to find somewhere secret to live - saving Klarence from a lifetime of being mocked and/or scrutinised for his outlandish physicality.
Cut to two years later, and we meet three friends - Victor (Theo Fernandez), Tom (Zacharie Chasseriaud) and Dan (Damien Ferdel) - who've all just received detention on the last day of school. Fuck that, they decide to bunk off instead and go for a romp through the local fields. The usual shenanigans follow: they try their hand at smoking, belittle each other playfully, cross a lake on an abandoned rowing boat.
There's an old disused film studio nearby and, when they see a car headed in that direction, the boys decide to investigate further. It's here that they witness the masked Klarence dragging tied-and-bound women from the boot of the car and into one of the derelict buildings. A tense spot of cat-and-mouse later, and the boys are able to escape the scene with their lives.
Later that day, they bring the police back to the scene. However, an inspection unearths no sign of Klarence or his victim. The general consensus is that the boys had fabricated the whole thing.
Unfortunately for them, it was all very real. Isaac lives on the studio grounds with Klarence, and he's adamant that his son must now track down these three juvenile witnesses and kill them...
The latest horror film from Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, AMONG THE LIVING fits somewhere between their card-calling feature debut INSIDE and its rather lacklustre follow-up LIVID.
Certainly, the opening sequence - arguably the best part of the film - isn't coy about alluding to the celebrated INSIDE, what with casting Dalle as a psycho bitch again ... and making her heavily pregnant, to boot. But where that film started off intensely and stayed at fever pitch throughout, AMONG THE LIVING simmers down into conventional storytelling more akin to the comparatively subdued LIVID.
It's a handsomely produced affair, well-acted and attractively shot. The acting feels above-average across the board (the children are particularly impressive). Pacing is tight. And yet, AMONG THE LIVING never engages in the manner I initially thought it was going to.
Part of this is because, following its initially intriguing premise, the film falls into a comfortable by-the-numbers sequence of set-pieces. Everything is stylishly lit, extremely polished-looking - and Klarence's stalking of the three school kids in their respective family homes plays out more like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER than the French New Wave of horror. Even the gore is restrained for the most part, presumably because the co-directors see this as a more mainstream venture (certainly, the combination of rich production values, twee orchestral score and overly familiar scare tactics suggest as such). Did we really need all the thunder and lightning on the night Klarence visits the kids' homes, too? Corny...
Another reason this doesn't quite register is because AMONG THE LIVING is almost entirely devoid of logic. Characters do the opposite of what any sane person would do at every opportunity. Oh look, there's a dark cellar where we believe a masked maniac has just taken a sobbing female victim. What should we do, being unarmed children? Let's go down there and investigate! I just heard a strange noise coming from upstairs. I know, I'll go up and check it out. It's probably better that I don't turn any lights on or call anyone while doing so. That kind of thing. Oh, and don't get me started on Klarence. Lest we forget that he's six years old while all of this is going on. Because of his fucked-up genetics he resembles a fully-grown man and facially looks like a relative of Michael Berryman, but he's still six years old. And yet, he drives. He knows how to trace people to their addresses. He kills with ruthless efficiency. Not bad for a kid.
AMONG THE LIVING isn't terrible. On the contrary, in many ways it's very slickly put together and the suspense scenes are crafted with such skill that you may momentarily forget how dumb it all is. But there's the thing: this is a dumb film, full of plot holes and character inconsistencies. Why does Klarence decide to go naked when he breaks into each of the kids' homes, for example? He was clothed earlier in the film. And it's these things that stop it being great. While INSIDE was undoubtedly far-fetched, at least its fundamental concept and mega gore kept it grounded in some gripping form of belief-suspension. This, on the other hand, is often preposterous.
Metrodome are releasing AMONG THE LIVING onto UK DVD. Their release has been passed uncut by the BBFC.
We were sent an early test disc, devoid of menu screens let alone extras and the like. The film itself looked very good though.
Respecting the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film is treated to a 16x9 presentation. Warm true colours, stable deep blacks and pin-sharp clean images are in order throughout. I can't pick fault with the picture quality.
Similarly the French 2.0 audio track provided was consistent and clear throughout. English subtitles were well-written and easy to read at all times.
It's worth noting the film has been given blu-ray releases in Europe, though whether they're English-friendly or not, I don't know.
AMONG THE LIVING is as daft as they come. It's stupid. It takes itself very seriously but it's crazily nonsensical. However, it's slick enough and filled with scenes of tension. If you can overlook the bizarrely bad writing (Maury and Bustillo also co-wrote) then you may find this highly entertaining.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Metrodome|
|see main review|