Viddy Well Recommends: Among The Living
Article by Anthony Cleveland
What if Spielberg produced High Tension? Or how about Richard Donner helming Martyrs? Maybe Rob Reiner doing Inside? If you cringed at anyone of these thoughts like I did, I recommend you watch Among The Living because it's evidence that these weird combinations can actually work well together.
Among The Living is another outstanding edition to the French Extreme Horror movement directed by the same team that created Inside and Livid, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. However, what sets this film apart from the other films released by the duo is that it focuses on the children's point of view, which feels very Stephen King or Spielberg-esque. Before we're introduced to the kids that will carry this film, the first scene opens in a very French extreme way. I won't spoil anything, but as soon as the door opens revealing a pregnant woman and her drunk husband...you have a good guess of where this is going to go in the end.
It's subtlety implied that the husband was exposed to some chemicals during his time as a soldier and now his child was born deformed or just different in some way. The subtlety of this scene needs to be applauded. It's never reveled why his son is different or how exactly it happened. The only clues we pick up are from are the husband watching a documentary on the subject of chemical weapons and the dog tags around his neck. Other than that, it's left for the audience to piece together. The scene ends on an intense and bloody note with the father and son choosing to hide out, in fear that his son will be dissected and experimented on.
The rest of the film focuses on three boys on their last day of school. A teacher equivalent of Nurse Ratchet has it out for the three and gives each of them after school detention. Once she leaves, they look at each other and basically say, "fuck this shit" and ditch school. The dynamic doesn't work as well in other child adventure movies like IT or Stand By Me, but it serves its purpose just fine. There's some great set pieces they explore like a run down pirate ship on land and an abandoned western movie set, which is where the horror begins.
After the boys witness the father and son from the first scene drag a bloodied woman to their lair, the father orders the deformed son to kill the three boys. We see the son for the first time wearing a deteriorated clown mask and he sets out after them. This is when the film returns back to French Extreme Horror. The three friends never reunite to take on the killers. So, please don't go into it expecting them to try to save the day with silver bullet sling shots or gadgets from Data's arsenal.
The scares throughout the film are extremely primal. As a child, there's a lot of vulnerable run and hide fears. One of the best sequences in the 2nd act has a babysitter mocking the boy's collection of stuffed animals. "Look at this. You got lions, tigers, dogs, a clown-" "A clown!?" He interrupts her and jumps out of bed to see the mask of the killer under a pile of his stuffed animals. Only there's no one under the mask. It's an obvious nod to the scene in E.T. where E.T. hides out in the closet with all the stuffed animals.
Whenever a child is killed in this film, it's all off screen (no spoilers, there's a lot of them). We fade to white. Which is confusing, because it hasn't been defined what exactly the son is. Does he have the power to teleport them? Does he have the same power as Pennywise's white light? WHAT THE FUCK IS IT?
It's especially more confusing when you have the audience conditioned to the no-punches-pulled style from the first scene or even the director's previous film which had a fetus being cut out of a woman's stomach. That's all okay, but just having a knife come down on a kid, who is off screen is too much? I don't get it.
As a parent there are a ton of scenarios that I lay awake dreading at night. This film hit on quite a few of them and I pretty much said, "fuck you" to the screen. I know I'm going to lie awake thinking about these dark scenarios again, but now I have visuals and sound to put to my night terrors. Thanks Bustillo and Maury!
The climax of the film returns back to the Spielberg style that was missing from the film as one of the boys rides out on his bike to the old film studio to save the day. The film feels like it has two endings, the first is a melodramatic farewell to those who died, and the next scene is very French horror reminder that the terror will continue.
Among the Living is a film that has two separate lives and keeps each apart from the other. Don't go into this expecting Stranger Things or Stand By Me. It is absolutely a French Extreme film, but if you need a dark killer clown fix until IT releases next month, this movie is for you.
Rating: 4 creepy micro-penises out of 5
What do you think? Did you pick up on the Spielbergian vibes? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!