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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – À l’intérieur (Inside)

My notes on À l’intérieur (Inside) (2007).

NB: spoilers.

On Christmas Eve, in an isolated house (understandably free of decorations), the extremely pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is menaced by an lady maniac (Béatrice Dalle) who wants to cut the baby out of her womb. It used to be that (Georges Franju aside) French cinema was too wussified to produce all-out horror movies, and its few exercises in the genre (like Jean Rollin’s vampire films) were more interested in eroticism and surrealism than nastiness and shock. In recent years, ruthless efforts like Irreversible, Haute Tension, The Horde and Martyrs have changed that. If anything, these could do with a whiff of the fantastique to go with the gruelling, sustained abuse of (usually) women — though most French roughies still feel obliged to include philosophical underpinnings which might or might not justify the thuggish brutalism. Once upon a time, the archetypal film Frenchman was Maurice Chevalier or Jean Gabin – now it’s Philippe Nahon, who (unusually) isn’t in this exercise in girl-on-girl ultra-gore from the writer-director team of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (notice how many French horrors are made by two blokes reinforcing each other’s decisions). Designed to provoke extreme responses, Inside is conceptually among the most horrific movies ever made. In execution, it surprisingly lets the audience off the suspense hook to go for CGI-assisted ketchup-sloshing in the almost cheerful Herschell Gordon Lewis manner rather than the nerve-stretching, you-can’t-watch-this approach of, say, Gaspar Noé.

It opens inside a womb, with a big CGI foetus whiplashed in what turns out to be a car crash. Sarah, a news photographer, is bloodied but alive at the wheel, next to her just-killed husband. Some months later, on the point of parturition, Sarah is a glum, unwilling mother-to-be. Either she’s suffering from premature post-natal depression or is just plain rude to her chic mother (Nathalie Roussel) and helpful boss (François-Régis Marchasson) as she insists on spending the night before she’s due to check into hospital alone and brooding in her house. We get few clues as to what she was like before the accident, but Sarah is such a snotty bitch it’s hard to care about her (or, even, her unborn kid). Nevertheless, the next stretch of the film, in the mode of Ils or The Strangers, is effectively terrifying as la femme (seen first as a shadow-faced outline) comes to the door and makes threats, then isn’t around when the police respond to Sarah’s distress call. Sarah develops photographs and sees Dalle’s strong, staring face spying on her and, in a creepy oh-my-God-she’s-in-the-house moment, la femme looms briefly out of shadow and fades away again unnoticed as Sarah naps. Given that it’s not clear how she got into the house, it’s even possible that the witchy woman, who wears a long black antique dress with big sleeves all the better for hiding weapons in and has a wicked queen fall of dark hair, is some sort of spectre, but the film then segues into extremely physical stuff which goes against that reading. Using domestic tools like dressmakers’ scissors and knitting needles, la femme attacks, and is on the point of cutting open Sarah’s belly when the first of many visitors shows up at the house and quietly intense creepiness turns into gory farce.

For a while, crossed wires make for unsettling scenes: the boss arrives while a face-gashed Sarah is upstairs locked in the bathroom and mistakes the psycho for Sarah’s mother – and even begins to flirt, until the real mother arrives and embarrassment turns to horror as both realise this is the stalker Sandra has complained about. Sarah mistakenly kills her own mother – incidents like this have been commonplace in horror since The Descent, though the first version I can remember is in the otherwise rubbishy Don’t Go in the Woods Alone – but barely has time to feel sorry about this since more folks have to be bloodily done away with. Several teams of paramedics and cops show up, with a handcuffed kid (Aymen Saïdi) arrested at a riot hauled in too, and la femme turns Terminator, littering the home with mutilated corpses. There’s ingenuity in the variety of atrocity, with heads blown apart by gunshots, the kid cuffed to a deadweight corpse, a blinded cop lashing out to batter the wrong woman, Sarah getting her hand pinned to a door by the scissors and a general splattering of red, red gore all over the white furnishings. In another context, incidents like a pregnant woman being repeatedly hit in the stomach with a truncheon would be unforgivably horrible – and, in this context, plenty of folks will walk out anyway. But the emphasis on effects and the way characters take appalling injuries but keep on fighting smacks of horror film convention rather than life, and so the film turns into just another gore-fest.

Late in the day, la femme reveals she was in the other car in the accident and wants Sarah’s baby to replace the one she lost – but, again, we get no clues as to who’s fault the accident was, whether la femme has a husband around, or even why the maniac thinks the best way to get redress is to perform an impromptu caesarian section on the unwilling mother (presumably, at the risk of the baby’s life) rather than simply to kidnap the kid after its safely born (of course, that would be a different film – less horrible, but probably scarier). Sarah uses a rigged-up aerosol flamethrower to burn off la femme’s face, which makes her a Freddy-like apparition with a Bride-of-Dr Phibes look, but the monster woman seems to turn as she helps her victim go into labour on the stairs, then reaches for her trusty scissors to perform a hideous special effects operation to set up the last shock-goth pietà image.

In all probability, this is as gruesome as cinema can get – but it’s not the endurance test it might have been if it kept all the interlopers out of the picture and focused solely on the antagonists. Dalle makes a wonderfully brutal hard-faced witch (she may be the scariest female monster ever) and Paradis is credibly distressed, but too much about these women is withheld from us. Inside ought to be the most upsetting movie ever made, but somehow it’s inappropriately entertaining in the Christians-to-the-lions mode of the video nasties. Of course, it’s the inheritor of a major French horror tradition; the combination of special effects splatter, shrieking melodrama and mad morality would have made Inside an ideal main attraction at the Theatre de Grand Guignol.

Later, there was a remake.

Discussion

One thought on “Film review – À l’intérieur (Inside)

  1. Luka Bernić a gorefest of a movie

    Chris Cooke I really enjoyed INSIDE – i liked it’s gleefully, insanely, over-the-top attitude in the last moments, and it’s downbeat ending too, really bleak – but what i thoroughly enjoyed was how dark the film was visually, shadows within shadows, darkened faces, set-design, season, the lot… really grim, but effectively though – I kind of agree, though, that it went on for just that – effect over story… but, the effect was unnerving. Cheers for a great review. this film would have been unprecedented in the 80’s video nasties scare – imagine the newspaper headlines!

    Gary McMahon Great review, Kim – I agree 100%. I wish the filmmakers had the balls to make this as realistically gruelling as, say, “Irreversable” instead of going for the easy gore option.

    Dave Felter One of my fave horrors of the last 10 years.

    Colette Balmain Inside is also interesting politically as is Frontiers, which I think is around the same time.

    Helen Mullane a great and interesting review, even if I can’t agree – admittedly it is more of a gorefest than it could have been, and its most effective periods are definitely the ones comprised of scenes between the two women alone, especially the toilet/hallway scene which had me biting my nails to the quick. Despite the high octane interludes, which I agree do stretch credulity somewhat I think it retains an incredibly tense and disturbing atmosphere throughout – it held me at the edge of my seat and disturbed in a way that makes it a much more accomplished horror film (for me anyway) than say Frontiers or the recent La Horde. x

    Gary McMahon I’d say “Martyrs” is the best recent French horror film – that one impressed me in a way that no film has for a very long time. Frontiers was good, but not great. Inside, as stated above, worked better in the intimate scenes. All good films, though, and light years away from the crap being done in the mainstream. Particularly in Hollywood.

    Phil Newton I love the intensity of this film, although in hindsight perhaps Martyrs is the better film as it doesn’t resort to those gory gross out moments quite so much. I love that shot as the Woman glides into the shadows, just chilling. Note – if you look closely at the background when Sarah is being interviewed in the front room by the police then you will spot the Woman creeping past the door and into the house. What I want to know is why Sarah was told that no-one had survived in the other car?

    Kim Newman I should say that I don’t necessarily think not going all out to be upsetting is entirely a bad thing. If Inside had been as ruthless as Martyrs, it might actually have been unbearable – and it’d scarcely be an achievement to make a film no feeling human being could sit through.
    I think some of the ‘philosophy’ in recent French horror is pretty specious … I note how many of the creatives on this cycle instantly sign up to do rubbish remakes for Hollywood. Oddly, the film I happened to see just after Inside was Surviving Evil, another expectant-mother-in-peril movie, so perhaps it’s a trend …

    Colette Balmain Very few pull the move off with any success, Aja is a case in point – even though I wasn’t particularly keen on Switchblade Romance.

    Toby Venables Has Beatrice Dalle ever played a nice, ordinary person..?

    Billy Houlston brilliant review Kim. the film terrified me.
    This is what i said about ms. D”s performance in my bizarre review: Dalle’s determined performance evokes such terror that you wouldn’t like to meet her in the middle of a floodlit football pitch; let alone have her come at you from the shadows, wielding a knife capable of eviscerating a cow.

    Posted by kimnewman | April 9, 2020, 11:18 am

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