The Paris, Texas Chain Saw Massacre

What happens when the creators of Inside (aka À l’intérieur) decide to combine Stand By Me with a splash of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and big portions of “home invasion” insanity? You’d probably get something that looks a lot like Julian Maury and Alexndre Bustillo’s Among the Living (aka Aux yeux des vivants), a beautifully shot and admirably unpredictable horror/thriller that uses the ingredients mentioned above – and maybe a half-dozen others – to cook up a multi-subgenre variety pack that manages to fire on all cylinders.

Among the Living starts out with a wonderfully disturbing prologue that could easily work as its own short film, but the central story is about three 14-year-old troublemakers who, on the last day of school before summer vacation, decide to skip school, cause trouble for a local farmer, and basically enjoy one of those lazy adolescent afternoons in which three young pals can feel cool, tough, and invincible.

And then they stumble across the infamous “ghost town” of a movie set. It’s a wonderfully creepy location, not unlike a well-shot carnival after dark or perhaps an ominous circus tent. But then the rascally trio hears a scream in the distance… and then they see a freak pull a struggling woman out of a trunk… and then they decide to investigate. And oh boy does that prove to be a bad idea, not only for the three teenagers, but also for their families, friends, and a bunch of random cops. Because this psycho is super-strong, exceedingly creepy (in a deformed way!), and (worst of all) he knows where the kids live.

Those who enjoyed Maury & Bustillo’s Inside and Livid will be pleased to notice that Among the Living is sort of a combination of the two, at least tonally speaking. The horror-lovin’ Frenchmens’ third feature has some of the grim, gruesome intensity of Inside, but it also boasts the gorgeous cinematography, art direction, and narrative smoothness of Livid. And of course Among the Living manages to work as its own distinct film, even if certain portions will remind you of everything from Steven Spielberg to Clive Barker.

The flick also earns strong marks for the three young leads (all good; suitably cocky and annoying at the beginning, but gradually more likable as the horrors progress into full-bore nightmares), an old-fashioned music score that is half playful and half ominous, and a thoroughly colorful pastiche of story threads that feel sort of familiar, but also make Among the Living feel refreshingly unpredictable on the whole.


Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)