Stars: Beatrice Dalle, Théo Fernandez, Damien Ferdel, Zacharie Chasseriaud, Anne Marivin, Francis Renaud, Fabien Jegoudez, Nicolas Giraud, Chloé Coulloud, Dominique Frot | Written and Directed by Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
French directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the driving force behind the notorious L’interieur (aka Inside) and the stylish Livid, turn their gallic focus to a much-maligned genre – the slasher movie – with Among the Living, a film that’s best described as Stephen King’s Stand By Me meets Friday the 13th.
Starting out with a disturbing prologue featuring a cameo by an almost unrecognisable Beatrice Dalle; a prologue that recalls the nastiness and brutality of L’interieur, Among the Living tells the story of troublemakers Victor, Tom and Dan who, on the last day of school, leave early to explore the countryside and commit petty crime. Ending up on the scenery-strewn back-lot at an abandoned film studio, they witness a masked figure dragging a kidnapped woman into an underground lair. Running home and getting punished for their truancy, no one believes their crazy story. But the mysterious maniac has followed them and plans to silence them forever, even if their parents get in the way.
Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo have, a least in my eyes, always been successful at mixing and bending genres and this is their most ambitious work yet. Whilst the opening recalls L’interieur, the film starts out like an old-school “boys own adventure” film that screams Spielberg’s The Goonies – a point that’s somewhat laboured given that Maury and Bustillo have the three teenage protagonists climb aboard a decrepit boat on the abandoned movie studio back lot. There are also shades of backwoods horror, a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre (in the twisted relationship between the father and son duo); home invasion thriller and the aforementioned traditional slasher movie.
Given the strong, gory, opening to the film, it was safe to expect that writer/directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo would keep up the Inside levels of brutality throughout Among the Living. However that, surprisingly, is not the case. In a complete change of pace, Maury and Bustillo choose to NOT show a number of this films kills, instead leaving things to the audiences imagination. It’s not until the films bizarre villain reeks his wrath of the final family that we’re let in on the brutality.
Speaking of the films villain, Among the Living follows the traditional horror themes surrounding family, childhood and grief. The central concept of the film revolves around a man trying to preserve his family, first after the breakdown of his marriage and his wife’s sanity, then after his new “home” is compromised by three inquisitive kids. It just so happens that his idea of preservation involves killing anyone that gets in his way – using his own (mentally challenged) son to do his bidding!
Yet again Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo show why they are the current masters of French horror cinema – taking what could have been, in lesser hands, a straight forward slasher-like tale and giving it their own distinctive flavour. It’s a credit to the pair that even with a film that has its roots in a genre as derivative as the slasher movie they can create something that is as unique as Among the Living.
Among the Living is released on DVD on March 7th, courtesy of Metrodome.