With his father out of town, a young, possibly retarded and definitely mentally ill young man is left in their large palatial estate with his seriously ill mother. Losing his barrings on reality, he locks out his mother's nurse and envisions himself as the head of the house, despite being completely incapable of understanding how to take care of his mother. Next comes an unflinching look into the lowest depths of humanity, man, and it will shock your eyelids.
The Living and the Dead is not a horror movie in the sense of there being a mysterious killer stalking coeds. It's more like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You see the shit, you see the fan, you see the shit heading towards the fan and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It's clear from early on that this story is destined to end in depravity, murder and madness.
The underlying material is suitably uncomfortable and tragic, but writer/director Simon Rumley undercuts his own film's power with a lot of unnecessary histrionics. For one, the actor playing the son is required to go full-retard (second horror movie this week to do this), a performance of exaggerated manic energy that is a constant distraction. Worse, Rumley feels the need to convey the son's psychosis with lots of pyrotechnics, constantly speeding up the footage, cranking up chaotic music on the soundtrack and cutting to bizarre fantasy sequences. It feels like a cop out, a way to avoid dealing with the harsh reality of the story.
And yet... the movie does work, very much so, in places. I reacted strongly in areas, with that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, helplessly watching the lives of the characters spinning out of control. This movie would almost certainly rub a lot of people the wrong way, which is part of its intention. It's the kind of movie that makes people wonder why it exists in the first place, as it seems to have no point past shoving the viewer's face in ugliness. Personally, I admire a movie that can get under my skin, and find that these sorts of dark, dank tales of misery have a certain cathartic effect; you work through your anxieties by the end of the film. That's (one of the many) reasons I think horror is an important genre, and so I mean this as high praise.
So consider me strongly conflicted on this one. I hated much of its style but respected some of what it accomplished. I've heard Rumley's more recent Red White & Blue is a similar gaze into the abyss, and I'm excited to give it a shot. If he can tone down his blunt tendencies, or at least channel them in a less distracting manner, then he might really have something.