Among the Living Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Metrodome Distribution
Written and directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
2014, 90 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 7th March 2016
Anne Marivin as Julia
Théo Fernandez as Victor
Francis Renaud as Isaac Faucheur
Zacharie Chasseriaud as Tom
Damien Ferdel as Dan
Fabien Jegoudez as Klarence
Nicolas Giraud as Nathan
Béatrice Dalle as Jeanne Faucheur
Playing truant on the last day of school, three young boys break into a disused film studio to smoke a few cigarettes and break some windows. In the grand horror tradition, they happen across more than they had anticipated when they find a serial killer’s lair and the kidnap victim held therein. The kids beat a swift exit, home to their mommies and daddies. Some things, however, just won’t be left behind...
Among the Living is the latest movie from French filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julian Maury, the masterminds behind the utterly shocking Inside, a slasher film about a pregnant lady and the lunatic trying to cut the baby out of her belly. Inside, being a massive part of the French extreme cinema movement, sitting happily alongside such stomach-churners as Switchblade Romance, Frontiers and Martyrs. The best of the films that isn’t Martyrs (few films will ever be so transcendent) it marked Bustillo and Maury out as a pair to watch – so much so that they’ll be helming this year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel, their big US break.
The Texas Chainsaw vibes are heavy with Among the Living too, from its washed-out, sunny visuals to the bizarre family unit at the centre of it all. It’s a film I first discovered two years ago, at FrightFest 2014. My overriding memories of the film are not pleasant ones – awash with all the child murder and brutality one would expect from the French extremist directors of Inside. Colour me surprised, then, to discover that the film is markedly less explicit than I had remembered it being. Cut to ribbons by the BBFC, surely? Apparently not. Like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (note the gap), it suggests more than it actually shows, stopping well short of the lengths I had (mis)remembered it going to.
Not that it isn’t massively violent and gory as it is. In a cheeky wink to their previous work, the directors open with a baby being cut out of the mother’s womb, setting the tone early. To say much more would be to spoil a deftly structured little story, like Stephen King crossed with Jack Ketchum (Jack Ketchum, then) – Stand by Me or IT meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The kids are well-defined and spirited, but not too bratty. Victor is the relatively well-adjusted leader of the three, troubled but good hearted. The angry abuse victim and the wimpy nerd toe the line into stereotype territory, but are likeable and easy to care about.
The ‘anything goes’ nature of French horror makes for unbearably tense viewing; a sense that lack of puberty, nice guy-dom or literally being a baby does not guarantee any character’s survival. While there’s a surprising lack of transgression here, given the directors and their cultural cinematic history, it reaches many of the dark places one expects it to, being genuinely difficult to watch at times. Foot fans beware: Among the Living will kill your fetish stone dead.
There’s something missing though, and not just the extra gore I made up in my fake memories of the film. For all its nastiness and willingness to go further than most, it’s a more conventional movie than one might have hoped from the directors of Inside, with a surprisingly rote villain. The clown mask is a nice touch (recalling IT again) but this giant nudist cross between Michael Myers and a cave-dweller from The Descent fails to terrify like he should, particularly in his inconsistent resistance to violence – one minute taking a hockey stick to the face without flinching, then being decked by a frying pan the next. His story is interesting, but he really isn’t. And then there’s the last act, which throws away much of the tension and many of the characters, descending into a barely memorable mess of smoke and violence.
A coming of age tale like no other, Among the Living is a typical piece of French horror (read: disastrously incompetent local cops). It’s very violent, upsettingly/refreshingly blasé about child murder, and a lovely change of tone and pace from most other modern slasher films. It’s plenty good enough, then. But coming from the directors of Inside, ‘good enough’ just isn’t good enough.