DIRECTOR Alexandre Bustillo; Julien Maury WRITER Alexandre Bustillo; Julien Maury STARS Anne Marivin; Théo Fernandez; Francis Renaud DVD 7 March
Over the past decade for many horror enthusiasts the most exciting contributions to the genre have come from France. This is, at least in part, thanks to directing duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. Their debut effort from 2007, the brilliant and twisted home-invasion thriller Inside, took the tired slasher film to new heights, putting the formula under a microscope with a detailed analysis that was much more than exploitative gore. What’s fascinating about French new wave horror, particularly in Bustillo and Maury’s case, is that their cinema acts as a reinterpretation of American classics, filtered with a foreign perspective that takes bolder choices and plunges into darker territories. Inside was followed with Livid (virtually unseen due to shameful distribution), a haunted-house piece that paid homage to the Gothic architecture and costumes of 60s Hammer horror.
Among The Living is their final instalment of a self-described American trilogy, and it is as accomplished and horrifying as you can imagine. The prologue sets the tone, as a pregnant mother (Bustillo and Maury regular Beatrice Dalle) violently attacks her husband and deformed son. Dalle is killed, and father and son — along with the foetus ripped from his wife’s womb — flee, with the intention of starting a new life.
The narrative then shifts to three teenage boys, and the film follows their typical exploits as they drift in and out of trouble: bad language; comics in class; detention. Summer beckons, and we follow them to an abandoned film studio they like to hang around in. Here we find ourselves in a twisted version of a Spielberg film — think Stand by Me crossed with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you’re someway to imagining the feeling Bustillo and Maury are going for. You never feel safe with their work, because they are happy to cross the line at any point, pulling away the narrative rug.
At the studio they’re discovered by the deformed son from the prologue, now fully grown. From here Among The Living descends into a nightmare, as the boys are tracked and terrorised, and the directors find an opportunity to explore parallel families. When the film shifts gear into full slasher territory it’s incredibly effective. Like Inside, Bustillo and Maury have found a way to make their killer frightening, something often missing from the genre. Their punishing use of violence is a bonus, but they have an understanding of what is unsettling too. The son is overly mutated, just strange enough to be on the line between human and something else. It’s a villain to haunt your thoughts. This is a serious and superb horror film from a writer-director duo who fully understand how to deliver, and should not be missed.