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December 2009

Inside

cast: Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle

directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

75 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
review by Max Cairnduff

Inside

Ratings are tricky things, if I were a hardcore gore fan I might have given Inside (aka: À l'intérieur) a six or seven, forgiving its total lack of surprise and the frankly imbecilic actions required of its characters. Looking online, I've seen many reviews hailing it as a modern masterpiece, a triumph of horror and suspense. However, as you read this, the red rating on this page makes it clear what I actually thought of it. Ratings, they take all the tension out of a review...

Anyway, Inside has a tremendous premise for a horror film, a heavily pregnant woman is trapped in her house and stalked by another woman, a terrifying, deranged and anonymous figure clearly intent on some terrible violence. The scenario takes the vulnerability of pregnancy and the desire to protect the baby and marries them to classic elements of isolation and the terror of the malignant unknown. The film opens strongly, with a foetus' eye view of a car crash, an innately shocking scene which immediately puts the viewer outside their comfort zone.

From there, we are introduced to Sarah (Alysson Paradis), injured and left scarred in that crash, with her husband dead (though he returns in her imagination for a brief scene strongly reminiscent of Ghost, of all things). Some months have passed, it's Christmas, and a glacially withdrawn Sarah is preparing for the imminent birth of her baby, expecting to go into hospital the next day for a Christmas delivery. There are some nicely judged scenes in the hospital, with a callous nurse smoking at Sarah and telling her about the pain of her own first birth, how it lasted 14 hours and then came stillborn.

Sarah is a photojournalist, alone now save for her mother and her boss, both of whom care for her but both of whom she is keeping at a distance. She loiters in the park, photographing a young couple with their toddler, she is clearly still in shock and ambivalent about her own condition. She returns home, however, to spend a quiet night before being due to be picked up in the morning by her boss, and it is there that the film truly starts. A strange woman comes to the door and asks for entry, pleading a broken down car and battery-flat mobile, when Sarah refuses, the woman addresses her by name, and from there the evening takes a horrific turn.

The woman (played by Béatrice Dalle) is a sombre figure, clad in gothic black with a corset-like top and sweeping sleeves, a figure out of Victorian nightmare. Unnamed, her motives for most of the film are unclear, but before too long she is within the house, observing Sarah's sleeping figure and, in a powerfully disturbing image, running sharp scissors across Sarah's distended belly.

And then it all falls apart. As Sarah wakes, the woman attacks, and the film descends into an hour of essentially unbroken gore with minimal plot but maximum close-ups and lingering shots of burst eyes, groins and throats. The film wholly lacks surprises, everyone I expected to come to the house did, everything I expected to happen to them did, the film clarifies by the end exactly who the woman is and why she is doing all this - so removing any potential ambiguity as to what is really happening (we know what is really happening, it just makes no real sense).

There is a twist which I saw coming from literally the first scene the woman appeared in, there are police officers who act with such utter unconcern for logic that it just pained me - seriously, you've just heard shots from within the house where your colleagues are, do you: a.) call for backup? Or, b.) hand-cuff your suspect to you and go into the house with him attached to see what's going on? Come on! - Twice, the plot depends on characters not recognising each others voices and just lashing out, the woman proves a figure of Halloween-esque lethality and resilience, although despite being able to take down armed police officers she can't kick in a bathroom door. It's just nonsense.

There is a good film here struggling to get out, a film about the way pregnancy takes over a woman's body, rendering her alien to herself and at the same time making her incredibly vulnerable while giving her something she would die to defend. That concept is here, but the execution is lost in a welter of blown-out skulls and gallons of blood. Every act of violence is lingered over, the camera unblinking as blood pours out of wounds and victims scream. That's fair enough but after a bit when that's all there is it does get dull.

I didn't care about any of the characters, the only remotely credible one is Sarah, and she's detached and in shock, making her hard to empathise meaningfully with. The rest are stock figures, there to be dispatched, and a raging psychotic of an all too familiar sort. If you enjoy gore, this film delivers it in spades. It's well shot and the special effects are largely convincing. If you're after anything more, though, it's deeply unconvincing and depends heavily on the characters and the viewer both not thinking too much about what's going on.

But, as I said at the opening to this review, ratings are tricky things. If you're a gorehound, you may absolutely love this, I doubt you'd even then give it an eight because there are just too many stupid character actions that are needed to keep it moving, but you might well give it a six or seven. It is creepy early on and after that disturbing and full of extraordinarily visceral shots. For me, though, body horror alone, even with decent cinematic technique (which bumped it up from a two to the four I finally gave it), just isn't enough. A film also needs such small things as characterisation, plot and suspense, and for me Inside has none of those.

Inside on DVD comes with its theatrical trailer and a fairly decent making-of featurette.



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