Among the Living (2014)

Written and Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo

Starring Nicolas Giraud, Zacharie Chasseriaud, Damien Ferdel and Fabien Jegoudez

When three young schoolboys play hooky and explore the abandoned film studio at the edge of town, they stumble upon a murder in progress. They suddenly find themselves and their families in the crosshairs of a murderous father and son duo who will stop at nothing to keep their bloodlust a secret from the rest of the town.

Among the Living is the latest entry into a growing subgenre of films dubbed the “New French Extremity”. This collection encapsulates mostly (but not exclusively) horror films that tackle subject matter and an extreme level of violence rarely seen in mainstream American cinema. Some of the more well known films to represent this are Haute Tension, Frontieres, Sheitan, Martyrs and Inside (this latter film being brought to us by the bloody hands of the same filmmakers as today’s featured film). How does this most recent film stack up amongst such revered company? Decently. It’s a nasty film with much potential that doesn’t fully capitalize on what it can truly be. Yet it’s also a gruesome and violent film that will speak volumes to gore hounds of purveyors of cinematic carnage.

This film is unique in that it takes an oft neglected trope of putting children front and center. These kids are in their early teens yet are being subjected to horrendous scenes of violence, most often directed at their family. The film takes a couple of different approaches to this. It actually perfectly represents the films seemingly lack of identity. For the first half we have the slower, suspense based plot line that curiously cuts away from any explicit violence. The home invasions that follow are creepy and seem to spawn from popular American urban legends yet they also seem rather…tame. Yet the final scene suddenly erupts into a torrent of torture and trauma the likes of which was totally unexpected. Deliberate? Perhaps so, luring the viewer into a false sense of security. After all, they wouldn’t really kill the kids would they?  Yet I found this dichotomy of style to be a bit off putting and jarring. The kids themselves are perfectly fine though, a trio of solid young actors who know exactly what they’re getting into.

The same can be said for our pair of killers. The clown masked man and his horned-gas-mask adorned father could easily have been dreamt up from a meeting of the minds of say, Alexandre Aja and Rob Zombie. They’re both effective, if thinly written, characters that excel primarily based on the dedication of the actors. Our main killer in all his silent, naked (yes, fully naked) glory is revelation of child-like curiosity, sadism and savagery, evoking a new wave Michael Myers right down to his early clown mask. Kudos to the actors involved.

My main gripe with the film is its leaping tonality and odd pacing decisions. As mentioned before, it starts off slow and builds up only to rob us of any real payoff. Then the final half hour slams out of nowhere and assaults the viewer with so much carnage and vile violence that we’re left wondering if we’re watching the same film. This epic finale of sadism is followed with a very sweet natured and saccharine epilouge. In viewing this I’m wondering if the film wants to be “Rob Zombie meets The Goonies” or if it wants to be the most violent film out there, just with kids and families involved.

It’s not to say that I didn’t actually enjoy the film as a whole. Maury and Bustillo are horror maestros on the rise (soon gracing our screens with the latest Texas Chainsaw prequel) and they have a great command of cinematography, character design and direction of hardcore horror. I do wish the film didn’t jump all over the place and would have stuck to one tone and pace but the finale is so dynamically exciting and gruesome that it’s difficult to fault all of the PG-13 buildup for this near NC17 blood bath.

Among the Living is a solid French horror film with good, young actors, creepy-as-hell villains and some truly brutal gore scenes. Stick throughout the slow and unexciting first hour and horror fans will be deftly rewarded.

Among the Living is presented in French with subtitles

3/5 Creepy Gas Masks

Splatter Factor: 4/5  **** As stated in the review, the film takes a while to rev up but the climatic final home invasion is absolutely doused in red and tortuous moments. Amongst the carnage we’ll see are stabbings, slices from broken glass, a slow and difficult to watch scene involving a knife handle, gunshot wounds and the two highlights: a face being cleaved vertically in half and… DEATH BY STRANGULATION BY STUFFING FOOT INTO MOUTH.  …… Oh my. ****

The Collective Speaks:  We will assume and absorb the souls of any, no matter their age. If a child wishes to knock on the black door, they must be prepared for what may answer. In this case, that would be a naked lost soul in a clown’s guise. Very well. We wish this intriguing individual could ply his trade faster yet we respect the savagery he brings to his craft. As for his big secret that our parched lips shall not divulge.. .well, that’s something for his father to reveal…

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