Maybe you’ve been around long enough to remember this but my daughter was born back in August and something really fucking weird happened to me. In an instant, my view of the world took on this entirely new dimension where things that didn’t bother me in the past, suddenly shocked the shit out of me, particularly when it was something shocking involving children. The younger they are, the more disturbing it became to me. It’s easy to understand why. Whether you want children or not, there’s a sleeping instinct in you waiting to wake up. Whether or not you wake it up is totally up to you. So bearing this in mind, France’s Inside was a little difficult for me to get through. But rest assured. I’m not completely broken. George Eastman munching on a fetus in Joe D’Amato’s deliriously violent high-note, Anthropophagus is still a fucking riot to me.
There has been a great deal of buzz in North America about Inside since it first started circulating in English speaking film festivals. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be my bag so I didn’t pay much attention until I started seeing it popping up in horror circles. Rue Morgue ran a cover story about it, which I haven’t read, and that was pretty much the final nail in the coffin. The word is that Inside is a fairly original take on the traditional stalker/survivor scenario. Somehow equal parts slow burner and bloodbath. A skillful navigation of the treacherous waters that are horror themes. I wasn’t about to let my aversion to hype get in the way of something potentially important for the horror community. France has been a mixed bag over the last several years, too, but whether they’re turning out high-culture genre affairs or pillaging the scripts of John Carpenter, I’m always interested.
Inside tells the story of Sarah. In the opening moments of the movie, she is a pregnant woman reduced to single-mother status when a catastrophic car accident takes the life of her husband/boyfriend and leaves her and her unborn child severely injured. She and the baby recover several months later but you can’t say the same for her emotions. Sarah is despondent and the hope and optimism of motherhood has been replaced by resignation and despair. It’s Christmas eve and she’s supposed to be induced in the morning but she is visited in the night by a strange woman in black who attacks her with a pair of scissors and spends the night averting interruptions by killing everyone who comes into the house. Sarah hides in the bathroom.
The plot is pretty simple but it doesn’t need to be any more than it is. It’s also nice to know that I’m not too jaded to be shocked these days even by a scenario so well explored in popular American horror. I’m always going on and on about how I’ve seen it all and that nothing fazes me but that’s just not true. Inside builds layers upon layers of tension, occasionally releasing a bit here and there with scenes of explosive violence only to put what it took away back on the pile all the while adding more tension. Simply put, it had all the right moves. It has all the ingredients to be a successful horror movie. Unfortunately, it also comes with a lot of shit that will turn off even the most jaded horror fans.
Going in, I wasn’t expecting anything. I had no basis to build any expectations. I hadn’t really read much about it, so imagine my excitement when the red stuff started flowing. The special effects are absolutely outstanding! I’m talking all manner of bloodletting here. Arterial spray, exploding heads, disembowelment. For a movie about a woman screaming from the behind the locked door of her bathroom, this movie dispatches its victims in some very novel and exceptionally explicit methods. One of the cops declares the crime scene a “war zone” and he’s not kidding. By the time the credits roll, blood covers every surface. Usually, I have the sense of humor to detect when a movie is having a good time and the violence has a silly side to it. I can appreciate that. The excess doesn’t seem so excessive when there’s a smirk on its face. Inside has none of this, however. It’s nothing more than a mean spirited exercise with nothing to say for itself.
The movie is capped off with what could possibly be the most upsetting ending I’ve ever seen in a movie. Scene after scene is loaded with the means for Sarah to turn the tables on her attacker but you know how this is going to go down. They’re going to keep you hanging in there until the ending rolls around and finally give you the coup de grace. The villain, who has spent the movie gouging eyes out with knitting needles and blasting heads in half is going to get their comeuppance in a way that tops all the other kill scenes combined. I’m afraid Inside gives you none of this. Instead, we’re left with an ending that made me wish I had never seen the movie in the first place. I had options tonight, you understand. I went into this having chosen it over Big Man Japan and The Signal and I wish I had watched either one of those. I won’t give anything away because it’s actually the most appropriate ending that could have been written. To end it on any other note would have been dishonest but its still not something I wanted to see.
I’m torn. It’s a rare occasion when a horror movie causes me to pull my feet up under me and yell at the movie (“You’re gonna drop yer pistol when you bust through the window!”). I just don’t find these sorts of movies any more. It’s such an effectively tense piece of horror. There may come a time when film students study it as an example of taut suspense filmmaking. Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of movie that could only come out of Europe where social taboos seem to be much more relaxed and constantly threatening the life of an unborn baby and showing CGI fetus-cam shots of the baby in distress and a police baton to a pregnant woman’s stomach is something you can get away with. What begins as slow burning suspense transforms over the course of a gruelling 78 minutes into all-out mayhem.
One part of me was thrilled to find a movie that shook me so effectively. Another part of me is frightened that it takes a movie like Inside to make me feel such repulsion. And one other part of me doesn’t ever want to see it again. The point of a horror movie is to shock or scare, but did they have to be so good at their job?