Directorial duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are a brilliant force in French horror. Behind them they have Inside (2007) and Livid (2011), both are thought provoking, intense and grisly pieces of work. Among The Living is their most recent French feature film and though this horror has a more innocent and lighter tone, it is still filled with lurid scenes that will get your heart beating. Bustillo and Maury have the talent for creating perfectly timed jump scares, built up with spine-tingling moments. Among The Living does just that but with a hint of satire and some classic slasher movie tropes.
Three boys, Victor, Tom and Dan, skip school to start their summer holidays early. They soon get themselves into trouble, that eventually leads them wandering through an abandoned film lot. It is here they encounter a nightmare when they become witnesses of a screaming woman being dragged across the lot by a masked man. Foolishly they decide to be heroes, attempting to save the woman themselves. When seen, they run for it, after getting away they try to tell the police, but when all the police find is a bunch of mannequins, they assume it's just their imagination and their reputation for trouble make them less believable. The boys are then dropped off at their respective homes but little do they know that the masked man is close behind them.
Although the premise is fairly basic, there are multiple layers in the storyline with each character having their own motivations and story. The character development is done extremely well. You care for the three boys, and you especially care for Victor and his family. It's mixed bag of themes, which they manage to make work as a drama and a horror film, which the French are so good at doing. You could say the film is very much a creature feature, the film hints genetic mutation that must be linked to our monstrous slasher known as Klarence. Klarence is an abnormally large being and appears to be asexual, as we see him largely naked throughout the film. He seems inhumanly strong and fast, so one could argue he is some king of superhuman or freak which is why his father hides him away.
What actually ties the film all together is the very first scene. Typically it's Halloween, but a struggling family is avoiding trick 'r' treaters, a pregnant woman suddenly driven with torment and madness attacks her husband, beating him down, she then goes upstairs to her son, Klarence, who is hiding behind the curtain, she tries to stab him but he swiftly moves from her reach. The husband finally intervenes. Heartbroken and traumatised, the husband runs away with Klarence, evidently different from other little boys, he promises his son that they will start a new family and disappear from the world.
The cinematography is beautiful and because of the settings, much of it looks more like an indie drama rather than a horror film. The contrast of the serene natural settings against the derelict film lot drastically changes the tone just as it drastically changes the characters, which are no longer carefree or having fun. They've taken themes of a coming of age film and flung it into the macabre. Bustillo and Maury are able to present death in many interesting ways, both on and off camera, where your imagination can take over which, for some, can make the scenes even more horrifying. The duo will be focusing on boyhood once again with the upcoming prequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise, Leatherface. The two have a definite cinematic style that brings a sense of quality and beauty to the genre, that should be a good step to reviving a classic franchise.
AMONG THE LIVING / CERT: 18 / DIRECTORS: ALEXANDRE BUSTILLO, JULIEN MAURY / STARRING: ANNE MARIVIN, THÉO FERNANDEZ, FRANCIS RENAUD, ZACHARIE CHASSERIAUD, DAMIEN FERDEL, FABIEN JEGOUDEZ / RELEASE DATE: 7TH MARCH