I have not reviewed many French horror films on Nightmare Shift. Actually, on second thought, this is actually a first, believe it or not. I like that. After all, it means that in March alone we have reviewed our first German film (The Golden Glove), our first Serbian film (A Serbian Film), and now, our first French film. Although there is a lot left to accomplish, I believe we are headed in the right direction at offering a broader, more diverse scope on the dark subject matter we love so much. Although, this is not the first film I have reviewed that was directed directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, that goes to the American slasher film Leatherface, which was quietly dropped and forgotten in 2017. Honestly, I would not be surprised if more than a few of you didn’t even know it existed. For what it’s worth, although Julien and Alexandre seemed like ideal candidates to direct the film (their 2007 film Inside would attest), Leatherface is not a film I would recommend. It isn’t awful, and, in fact, it is better than Texas Chainsaw 3D in my opinion, but it didn’t gel the way I hoped it would.
Among the Living is a 2014 horror film. By then, the junior effort for the horror duo, receiving what can best be described as a lukewarm reaction, with many individuals citing it as a misfire comparative to earlier fare. The film’s funding was raised through a successful crowdsourcing campaign, and if you want, as of this writing, Among the Living is available on the Shudder streaming service (that’s where I watched it).
I went into Among the Living knowing little about it. I think, really, for the most part, that’s the ideal way to approach any horror film, or film, in general. Too often I feel like movie trailers and plot summarizes can unveil narrative threads and developments in ways that conflict what was intended. Obviously, this can’t always happen though. As I know, there’re too many movies on the market to watch everything blind, and even worse would be if you abstain from a film based on preconceived prejudice based on cover work or a movie title. Thankfully though, for this instance, I was a casual connoisseur of the directors already, and felt ready to make the leap of faith.
As prefaced, Among the Living is an interesting film – in part because of the critical reception it was received amongst many movie aficionados. Say what you will about the general critic, whether you think they’re pretentious or elitist with what they hail and what they denounce. However, what I have often found with smaller, niche films like a French horror, you are more often to hear feedback from a smaller, niche crowd who would seek out a French horror film. When the ones writing about you are on Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central, Fangoria, and, eventually … Readers Digested, you know you’re among friends, so to speak. I was curious about it in that respect, and I will say, before digging in, that I would recommend Among the Living in spite of the mixed reaction.
The film follows three young boys as they discover a part of their town, a hidden, underbelly, so to speak, that lies a horrific secret within. In terms that are less ambiguous, but not completely outright – the young boys see a masked figure dragging a woman into his underground lair. Unfortunately, due to their troubled upbringings and occasional wrongdoings (they were on the run for arson earlier in the day), no one believes their story, leading to newfound consequences.
Early on, I was taken in by the picturesque scenery and approach to story progression. At first, at least, Among the Living has that nostalgic, coming-of-age approach, you know the one, the way you feel from series’ like Stranger Things, or Stand by Me and It? The film also has a certain sleaziness to it, like a Tobe Hooper film (only highlighting how peculiar it was that Leatherface missed the mark like it did), where it’s the type of film that might follow through on the child-orgy from that Stephen King novel. I found myself really enthralled by the first half hour or so of the film. The scenery is atmospheric, making use of the “abandoned film set” aesthetic, and the incorporation of music by scorer Raphael Gesqua. Sound is very prevalent in the film, and it accomplishes both a thematic consistency and genuinely elevates the film in considerable fashion.
The acting is mostly decent, without any particular outliers I can think of, then again, I can’t think of any performance I would actively highlight. The violence was gory without carrying the extremist nature the directors are otherwise associated with. I never had any moment I can think of that was particularly harsh, other than one jaw-dropping scene where our antagonist did exactly that. Enthusiasts might find themselves thinking they did not push the envelope as far as they should have, but I found that was not an issue I came away with. Although my remembrance of the directors’ other films Livid and Inside are cloudy at best (I will review them sometime soon), I found this film to feel very conventional in-comparison to what I remembered.
Instead, the issue with Among the Living comes in the second half. The characterizations that were established early on were, at best, developed on a superficial level. Viewers were introduced to a trio of rebellious teenagers with varying family lives, but the characters and what was established with them felt tossed aside, or, at least, underutilized thereafter. Obviously, they brought to “bad guy” to their family’s doorstep, but the rest of the family characters were never introduced prior and I was not invested in them. Meanwhile, the antagonist is mysterious, at best, and messy, at worst. A small scene at the start of the film messily lays the foundation for him, and that foundation makes it difficult to find his footing anytime afterward.
The film plays out like a slasher film in the homestretch, which is not inherently a bad thing at all. After all, I like slasher films. In fact, if you look, I’ve reviewed them about as much as anything else. Our antagonist has a simple presence to him – he’s naked and pale, and there is the general feeling you don’t know what is happening in his head. All of this is okay, but it feels like it never comes together, per se. Our protagonists feel like they’re disregarded in the home stretch, and our antagonist feels unfinished, and / or malnourished, both literally and figuratively.
Among the Living is alright in my book.
Although I don’t think it’s a film I am likely to single out or even remember in months to come, I did appreciate it.
The reason I would recommend it to you is because of how capably shot it is, as well as the amount of production value it carries. I watch a lot of low-budget features and this is, for certain, a film that is a notch above the average horror film, if not for its storyline, than certainly for its creative vision and technical flare, bolstered by directors who I have no doubts I’ll be talking a lot about on Readers Digested. The film has a a promising start and nosedives in the next half, but still remains an enjoyable watch in the genre, nonetheless.