THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN LIMITED SPOILERS
Everything Sounds Better In French.
I’m an unapologetic fan of the new wave of French Horror, also known as the French Extremity Movement. This wave of carnage that overtook the French film scene in the early 2000s has produced some of the finest horror films of the twenty-first century. The movement inspired many similar films throughout Europe and Asia. These movies took the level of violence shown on the screen to a new level, but they also found novel and appalling ways to tap into our deepest fears. 2007’s Inside has often been cited as one of the definitive, if not THE definitive, expressions of French Extremity cinema. Martyrs is another quality contender.
The film begins with pregnant Sarah, a talented photographer, driving on a crisp fall day, while her husband rides shotgun. The scenic drive ends abruptly with a head-on collision. Sarah’s husband is killed, but her and her child are spared.
Several months after the crash, Sarah completes her final ultrasound the day before her birth inducement, which happens to be Christmas Day. Sarah arrives back home just as dusk is turning to night. Nostalgic memories of her husband’s embrace drag her down into a melancholic daze, but she eventually falls asleep. A knock at the door wakes her. A female visitor asks to use the phone. With no desire to let a stranger in at such a late hour, Sarah says that her husband is sleeping and he can’t be disturbed. The woman calls her bluff and addresses Sarah by her name. Determined to enter the house, the woman goes around to the sliding glass door in the back yard and punches the glass. Sarah calls the police and attempts to take a photo of the woman.
The police arrive and survey the house. Sarah shows them the picture she took of the woman, but it’s too dark. The police leave and assure Sarah that they will patrol the house regularly. Sarah goes to sleep and the woman gains entry into the house. It becomes evident that the woman wants Sarah’s unborn child and intends to use any means necessary to physically extract it from the mother’s body.
The rest of the film involves Sarah’s taut struggle against the intruder. The audience learns that the woman’s motive for the Caesarean home invasion stems from one of human biology’s most feral impulses. Several visitors enter the house throughout the course of the night, which increases the number of obstacles that the intruder has to contend with, in order to get her prize.
WRITING & CHARACTERIZATION
Inside was Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s first directorial effort (Bustillo also wrote the screenplay). The dialogue in the film is concise and to the point. In addition to sounding more eloquent than English speakers, French people, at least in this movie, seem to talk less. The economic dialogue and brevity of the French actors’ line delivery means that physical acting is the film’s emotional currency.
The intruder, credited as La Femme and played by Béatrice Dalle, is one of the most harrowing villains I have ever seen. After I finished the film, I can’t imagine anyone besides Dalle playing the intruder. Every aspect of her performance seethes with maniacal determination. Bustillo intentionally turned the slasher genre on its head by making a woman the antagonist.
La Femme makes Hannibal Lecter look like a character from Sesame Street. Dalle’s performance oscillates between disciplined restraint (convincing police officers that nothing is amiss in the house) and unhinged mayhem. Quite often, she makes the turn on a dime, which create the film’s most chilling moments. Some of the most memorable scenes involve La Femme’s frustration when Sarah gains the upper hand. Dalle’s rabid shrieks are genuinely unsettling. It’s entirely possible that La Femme frightened me more than any other slasher antagonist. Dalle’s performance was that good.
Initially, Alysson Paradis plays Sarah apathetically. The character is devastated by the loss of her husband and her sadness seems to be on the level of clinical depression. She’s bored with life. Sarah shows virtually no excitement that she’s about to be a mother. While she’s scared by the mysterious woman’s knock at the door, she seems to get over it fairly quickly.
Once Sarah realizes the threat that the intruder poses to her child, we see her come alive. During the course of the film, Paradis’ Sarah goes through more brutality than Jim Caviezel did in The Passion. By the end of the film, the audience questions if Sarah can take anymore physical abuse, if she can endure another critical blow. Paradis’ authentic portrayal of exhaustion lends credibility to the story’s extreme violence. In the hands of lesser directors and actors, this violence might seen Tarantino-esque, stylish but not possible. It feels real here. The movie is a torture marathon for Sarah and Paradis successfully takes the audience over the finish line.
I am stunned that two novice directors pulled this film off. This is one of the most taut and suspenseful home-invasion films that I’ve ever seen. Besides the first ten minutes, the entire film takes place in a small, two-story house. A solid chunk of the movie takes place in a bathroom. Creating a believable scenario that’s also suspenseful in a setting that small is a tall order, technically speaking. But the filmmakers deliver.
The cinematography is eerie and claustrophobic. A particularly chilling scene has La Femme standing in the shadows behind Sarah, so that we can barely see the outline of her silhouette in the darkness. Many of the scenes occur in total darkness. In one nightmarish part of the film, police officers make it into the house and La Femme cuts the power, leaving them in darkness. The cinematographer finds the perfect balance between too much shadow and too much light.
The music is standard horror-fare, for the most part. However, there are some stirring violin pieces that accent some of the more over-the-top instances of violence. It’s a fitting juxtaposition.
The makeup and special effects are outstanding. While they obviously look great in a static setting, i.e. a cut on the face, the film’s most impressive effects come from dynamic moments of carnage. In one scene, La Femme takes scissors and slashes a man’s face. The cut is smooth but incredibly brutal. There are many more instances like this, but I don’t want to spoil it too much.
Inside isn’t just a great horror film. It’s a great movie, period. The film doesn’t rely on trite jump scares or slasher cliches. It’s an original experience. Inside is a genuinely scary movie. Many horror junkies love a movie just because it has an insane amount of gore, which is fine. Saw or Hostel, for example, have gore galore but simply aren’t scary. Inside is truly unnerving. This movie is over ten years old and it hasn’t lost any of its raw intensity. If you’re a horror buff and you haven’t seen this, do so immediately.
RATING: ΩΩΩΩ (Tantric Orgasm)
Ω – PAINFUL – Suffering through this was cruel and unusual punishment.
ΩΩ – I’VE HAD BETTER – This didn’t rock my world but it was better than a nut tap.
ΩΩΩ – GOOD – My life was enriched because of this.
ΩΩΩΩ – TANTRIC ORGASM – I will trade my soul for more of this.