Among the Living

1 out of 5

Directed by: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo

I didn’t think much of Inside, directors Julien Maury’s and Alexandre Bustillo’s first film, considering it more as a forced bid to ride the then-wave of French horror than a quality standalone experience, but it was at least well shot and provided some inventive kills for us gore fans.  Not that those qualities were enough to motivate me to see their followup, Livide, nor did they do much to excite me when I saw the directors names pop up on Among the Living’s credits.

Still, despite an incredibly clunky opening – which wastes a cute call back to Inside on a really poorly acted and distractingly shot setup for the remainder of the flick  – I liked the way the film transitioned to a play on the boys adventure 80s flicks a la Goonies.  Our lead trio of jerky youngsters are very believable as scamps, with fittingly dumb bro-y bonding dialogue and a good dynamic of nerdy one / mean one / devious one that doesn’t stray so far into stereotype that you don’t buy them hanging out with one another.  Among the Living takes a little while to let these kids pal around town when they skip out on the final day of school, and though they do some pretty awful stuff – trying to set a barn on fire, for example – the movie sort of sits back without judgment: their actions aren’t cast as either “cool” or horrible, we’re just there to observe.

After running from their latest antic, they decide to check out an abandoned film studio – Blackwood Studios – which has a light Last House on the Left fake-town vibe to it, accompanying the aforementioned Inside reference and a truck that might as well have been the one from High Tension; the flick is stacking up these visual references while maintaining the summery skies and upbeat score of Stand By Me, a juxtaposition I was down with.

Alas, any purposefulness with the film’s construction soon goes out the window.

The boys discover devious things at Blackwood Studios, but instead of following this thread down a rabbit hole to complete the genre inversion, Among the Living jumps right into stupid slasher nonsense, with disbelieving cops, unexplained bad guy super powers (meaning they can jump from location to location in a blink), and one of the dumbest excuses for killing I’ve heard in recent memory: The kids saw us, and they’re going to bring the police here, so go to their homes and kill them.  Good plan!  And that’s what the remainder of the movie is about: our trio being stalked by the killer.

Going back to the vibe I got from Inside, of making a film on the notion of “people like blood, right?”, Among the Living pursues its violence without purpose or motivation, just relying on imagery it deems appropriate for the genre, completely forgetting to explore some potentially interesting concepts it had baked in, such as that one kid seemed to be lying about his broken-home living situation, and a stolen baby from the opening scene.  There ends up being not much of a point to the whole Goonies bit, except because the 80s are in vogue, and the kills are lazy as well, pretending to be of a thriller variety – cutting away at the final moment – but then showing plenty of despicable on screen behavior anyway.

When I’m able to at least be entertained by a bad movie, that earns it some stars.  But Among the Living actively bored me, not pursuing any one of its few touched-on genres effectively, and choosing to go for a visuals-first approach that fails due to the general sloppiness or genericness of those visuals.