À l’intérieur (a.k.a Inside). 2007. Directed & Written by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury.
Starring Béatrice Dalle, Alysson Paradis, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, Dominique Frot, Nathalie Roussel, & François-Régis Marchasson.
La Fabrique de Films/BR Films/Canal+
Rated R. 82 minutes.
DISCLAIMER: The discussion which follows contains spoilers
Part of what’s considered the New French Extremity – a generation of films from French artists aiming at reworking horror conventions – Inside (original title: À l’intérieur) is at the head of the pack. Brutal, unflinching, directing-writing team Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury use pregnancy to create claustrophobic horror in a relentless barrage of scenes that’ll make even hardened horror hounds pucker.
Bustillo and Maury provide the story of a pregnant woman, Sarah (Alysson Paradis), recently in a devastating car crash, on the verge of giving birth. Perfectly, we get into the story the night before Christmas. A mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) shows up, laying siege to her house, trying hard to kill the expectant mother.
A simple premise is tangled into a mesmerising 82-minutes of claustrophobia, mystery, and a gorefest that works up in pitch until the – pardon the pun – mother of all nasty effects closes the film with a heavy gut punch. Bustillo and Maury’s tense, atmospheric direction, the eerie story combine with excellent sound design and editing, making Inside unforgettable.
The ultimate point of vulnerability as a woman is represented through Sarah’s pregnancy. She’s alone, her water’s ready to break. Like watching the nightmare of an anxious lady, counting down the days until she can finally see her child/get it out of them. What’s more interesting is that the story pits woman v. woman, a slasher-like showdown between two women in a male dominated genre (in terms of killers and villains). So even if there wasn’t any pregnancy, it’d be compelling.
Add that on top and this is nightmarish motherhood anxiety as a gory metaphor.
What intrigues me most about Inside is how it shows the trajectory of a pregnant woman’s thoughts, in so far as Sarah goes from a woman with actual anxieties over pregnancy, doubts, regrets, to a woman willing to fight to the death for her unborn child. Almost like a sick, primitive test to see how far she’s willing to go. The primitive nature of both Dalle and Paradis’ characters emerge through this violent, bloody process of motherhood.
In the final shots, which are some of the most savage images in modern horror, a sickening representation of a mother’s trials and tribulations to birth their child – the sacrifice, the pain – we see the film’s most devastating, clear image. Also happens to be drenched in blood, and cements the film as one of the most brutish horrors ever made.
Apart from anything profound found amongst the sanguine mess, Inside is above all an atmospheric piece of work, and unexpected, too. The sound design is quickly recognisable as an important element. A low, electronic thump. Screeches and howls of feedback in the flashes of crimson violence. These bits make the horror in both the loud and quiet moments shocking, they unnerve the viewer more. In addition, the editing’s able to amplify the psychological aspect of many scenes to an uncomfortable degree. For instance, when Dalle’s mystery woman sits at the bathroom door, lighting a smoke. The sound design and editing together directly mimic and reproduce the mental state in which this woman exists: her anger, the psychotic frustration, you can watch as the feelings intensify dramatically. Perfectly executed. All without an over-the-top, loud villainous performance from Dalle.
Overall, the atmosphere’s pure dread and claustrophobia. Insufferably grim for many who’ll likely shut the film off long before the intense climax and finale. There’s a dearth of hope in any given scene, so that at a certain point you’ll quit expecting any to come. You start anticipating that this protagonist will not survive, that a horrifying and tragic end is the only way for Inside to play out. Simultaneously, as our pregnant mother feels helpless, hopeless, as we do; as we should.
And due to how the atmosphere, the directing lull the viewer in, the finale’s vicious finish is not what many will have imagined or expected throughout the course of a first viewing. Somehow, after all the previous madness, Bustillo and Maury manage on finding a way to further draw out shock and awe in their audience. Admirable, in a twisted sense.
While pregnant moms might want to leave this until after the birth of their child for a Friday night horror flick, most honest horror fans will find Inside incredibly rewarding. Sure it’s got gore, it’s at times a pretty gross film. From the impeccable makeup effects, including a burning, a self-tracheotomy, scissors piercing various flesh, to the relentless psychological assault of worrying for Sarah and her unborn child, there’s NO DEBATE: this film is fucking ruthless.
But it’s also a bold piece of French cinema. Baulking in the face of misogynist genre fans who believe women-led horror isn’t as good or as hardcore as those led by men (many of us smarter fans have long known the truth). Inside is a game changer, in that it’s all-out horror pulling no punches, and also for the fact it shows that in the genre women may have been victims, time and time again, but hardcore horror doesn’t always require men. Not only that, a revenge-styled horror doesn’t need to involve the sexual assault of a woman: there ARE other plots out there, fellas.
For what it’s worth, Bustillo and Maury make motherhood into a terrifying scenario. Something it’s easy to imagine any woman who’s been pregnant already knows, too well. You can watch this as the gory horror it is, you can also see it in a broader, more metaphorical sense. Regardless of HOW you see it, see it. Because this is in league with the greatest horror of the 21st century.