Inside (À l'intérieur) Review
Alexandre Bustillo (Writer/Director) and Julien Maury’s (Director) liberally visceral, gore-drenched, and emotionally turbo-charged 2007 study of prenatal loss, femme-oriented über-violence, and modern societal fragmentation, demonstrates how French filmmakers are currently trouncing many paler international competitors with horror films that utilise the supremely effective vehicles of human tragedy, emotional intensity, and subtle political undercurrents to drive some of the most horrific yet emotionally exhilarating filmmaking.
The gruesome horror that ruthlessly slices and dices our senses and emotions in Inside is of a very modern ilk; it’s the deep, heart-wrenchingly painful horror that is rooted in real life, and only the emotionally bereft can fail to be haunted by the tragedy that provides the vigorously pumping lifeblood of this brave film.
Such is the directors’ confidence that they can shred our nerves at their behest that they dispense with any flimsy pretence from the off. The opening credits, for instance, drown our vision with gushing rivers of vivid crimson, and the looming foreboding is tangible as the emerging montage of foetal images and ultrasound baby scans provide an unsettling view against the backdrop of flowing blood.
Since Inside is unashamedly focussed upon its visceral visuals and shocking violence, the plot is necessarily Spartan. Sarah (Alysson Paradis – yes, fact fans, she is the sister of Vannesa, apparently) is a young lady with seemingly much to live for; that is, until a nasty road accident kills husband Matthieu. Though Sarah was pregnant and also in the car during the crash, she survives, and is afforded a ray of hope 4 months later when her in utero baby is confirmed healthy and ready to leave the warm confines of her womb the following day - which is, incidentally, Christmas day. However, Sarah has become encased in her own grief, and the sad, hard shell she presents to the outside world appears both disinterested and blunt. Behind closed doors though, her fragile facade falters a little; a moving scene in front of a wall of photos capturing Matthieu and Sarah during their time together belies her seeming coldness. She doesn’t cry – her grief and suffering have wrung that from her – yet we still feel her palpable, devastating sense of loss in surprisingly emotive fashion, thanks in no small part to the beautiful, clean strings of François Eudes’ superb score.
Eschewing the caring offers of company from those close to her, the taciturn Sarah elects to spend the night alone at home. When a visitor arrives through the thick, dingy gloom of the night, pleading to use the phone, Sarah is naturally suspicious and denies her access. Disturbingly, the shadowed lady “outside” – soon, of course, to be “inside” - knows Sarah’s name and her circumstances, and what should be the sanctuary of home suddenly feels cruelly exposed and dangerous. As our murky, unwelcome visitor progresses silently into the by now claustrophobic confines of Sarah’s home, some virtually unbearable scenes utilise delicately balanced shades of muted colour to reveal the merest hint of our dubious and sinister impostor. Glimpsing this figure, yet helpless to respond, we are left violated, nerves naked and raw, and tension thrust up to cardiac- threatening levels. Bustillo and Maury have manoeuvred us into a position as vulnerable as the baby beneath Sarah’s skin, and they ruthlessly unleash an inexorable wave of violence and brutality that slashes and stabs our consciousness with repeated, merciless, and unmitigated force.
Despite the inclusion of both fresh faces and established French actors, performances from the dedicated and hard-working cast are almost invariably excellent. Beatrice Dalle’s unhinged and unrestrained anger as the psychotic noir-caped intruder means that every wild and enraged stab, slice, and scissor action from her deranged hands strikes us to rip open a fresh wound. Alysson Paradis plays the poor, abused Sarah with unerring intensity throughout. Nathalie Roussel effortlessly displays her considerable acting pedigree as Sarah’s concerned mother, and François-Régis Marchasson visibly enjoys his role as ever-so-slightly sleazy newspaper editor Jean-Pierre.
Running at such a blistering pace, the film could easily derail itself, yet the violence is exacted with such measured proportion that just when you feel you are catching a momentary shallow breath, the horror explodes once again. Just one poorly placed incident threatens our incarceration in this very real terror; a brain damaged cop demonstrates a strangely ill-conceived dilly-dally into almost fantastical zombie-horror territory, and for a moment our nightmarish illusion is weakened. This is a momentary lapse, however, and soon forgotten. One could also question the legitimacy of utilising a vulnerable unborn child as a (supremely effective) tool to render our viewing pain even more acute, yet it is this very threat that makes our tension so keenly felt, and as the story unfolds we come to understand, though not relate, to the anger and pain that is unleashed.
Inside is a refreshingly intelligent exercise in nerve-shredding horror that will have even the most desensitised viewers thrusting their hands over their cruelly violated eyeballs. Though straight-forward in terms of plot, this intelligence is inextricably woven into the fabric of so many areas of the film, whether in the title (“Inside” the womb, “Inside” the house, Sarah as a woman trapped “Inside” her own grief, etc.), in the flickers of sensitivity and humanity that make the female-orchestrated violence all the more disturbing (Dalle sensitively stroking Sarah’s enlarged belly is both tender and extremely distressing), or in the sheer technical brilliance of the effects. It forms the antithesis of the mindless splatter movie, building a grim and tense catalogue of unspeakable, enraged, obscene violence which is made all the more credible and heart-wrenching due to the emotional intensity of the characters we come to understand. The greatest irony of all is that despite the grave violence and unrelenting scarlet flood of death that is unleashed in this “horror thriller” (as the film company originally decided to market it), it’s all presented with such exhilarating pace, atmospheric verve, and emotional intensity, that you’ll seldom have felt quite so alive.
This release of the 2007 film by Momentum Pictures is region 2 encoded. The transfer is clean and consistent. Some may feel that the colours are a little too muted on occasion, and that the darks don't provide enough contrast in the darker scenes, but the tension is built around some use of ambiguous views and blended colours, so any further clarity could have weakened the impact.
Subtitles are well translated and readable in clear white (with thin black outline), and don't disturb the horrific action. One minor comment is that the translators chose "Mommy" and "Mom" over "Mummy" and "Mum"; whether this denotes the same translation as an American release, or a new translation by American or American-schooled translators, I'm not sure.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and sound positioning provides some good atmospheric touches with sounds moving realistically across the sound spectrum as characters and objects move across the screen.
François Eudes’ beautiful score is reproduced in crystal clear fashion, with strings sharp and graceful, and no distortion evident, even on some of the more brutal sounds that accompany the scenes of violence.
Whilst this release may seem lightweight on extras, with only a trailer and a "Making of..." featurette, the latter is far superior to the bog-standard fare sometimes on offer. Featuring over 50 minutes of carefully selected interviews, "fly on the wall" perspectives during shooting, and insights into the hours of physical work that went into making the piece, it's a worthy accompaniment to the strong main feature.
Though you could argue that Inside pays homage to many of its international forebears, such as the "did I just see Michael Myers or didn't I" moments in Halloween, or the "can I protect my baby?" elements of Rosemary's Baby, this masterpiece of French horror cinema is self-propelled by a ferocious momentum all its own. The subject matter is indeed controversial, to say the least, but when motives and characters are fully understood, the film presents a challenging viewing experience that leaves you exhausted, dazed, and terrorised. For aficionados of extreme, intelligent horror, you simply couldn't ask for more.