One of the great tragedies of modern horror cinema is the confounding ambivalence shown to INSIDE (A L’INTERIEUR) upon its U.S. release. The stunning 2007 French shocker generated some buzz during its award-winning festival run, but never received a proper theatrical release save for France (it was filmed in Paris) and a handful of European markets.
The Weinstein Brothers ended up purchasing the American rights, releasing INSIDE directly to DVD in 2008 under their Dimension Extreme banner. A smattering of positive reviews and web ads appeared upon its arrival, but it quickly vanished into direct-to-video oblivion. Perhaps the subject matter was deemed too provocative for mass consumption, but more likely the French subtitles were considered too “highbrow” for the exploitation market.
But one can only imagine what the underserved horror crowd would have made of a theatrical exhibition of INSIDE — especially considering that just a few months after its soft release, M. Night Shyamalan’s reviled THE HAPPENING made $30-plus million in its opening weekend. Just let that soak in for a moment.
Written and directed with intense precision by newcomers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, INSIDE tells the bloody tale of the pregnant Sarah (a wonderful Alysson Paradis) who is involved in a tragic car accident that ends up killing her husband. Four months later, on Christmas Eve, with her baby due the next day, she spurns an invitation from her mother to spend the holiday evening together. Holing herself up inside her suburban home, the sullen and withdrawn mom-to-be mourns her deceased husband while experiencing (enfant) terrible hallucinations. Her silent night is interrupted by a knock at the door by a mysterious unseen woman, who requests to use the phone. Sarah makes excuses about her sleeping husband, but when the stranger informs her that her husband is dead, it becomes clear that the house was not chosen at random. Soon the stranger (only referred to as “La Femme” in the credits) begins a violent siege on the house, with intentions of stealing Sarah’s unborn baby… and she will cut, stab, electrocute and lacerate anyone who attempts to stop her from getting INSIDE.
If by chance you have missed Maury and Bustillo’s near-perfect splatter opus, here are 5 reasons to seek it out — tout de suite!
It Knows Exactly What it Is
Much like Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, Bustillo and Maury crafted a masterpiece of escalating suspense. But unlike most of the violent horror films released over the past few decades, INSIDE — like the Carpenter classic — is genuinely scary. Achieving this rare distinction requires complete engagement from the audience; it requires a relationship with the characters onscreen and an investment in their narrative. Once a filmmaker builds that connection, the action unfolding — no matter how extreme — takes on a level of viewer empathy, regardless of the character or motive. When Michael Myers tilts his head in recognition of his impaled masterpiece on the door, the audience gets it. And it’s unnerving. It’s scary. When La Femme violently beats the outside door to the bathroom in psychotic frustration, then has a moment of fragility and lights up a cigarette, we get it. We can empathize with her in that moment. And that’s scary. INSIDE knows exactly what it is — a scary thrill ride that expertly invites the audience into the experience.
Painful Practical Effects
Many of the violent set-pieces of INSIDE are stunning practical effects created by a talented team of makeup and effects artists. The violence onscreen is shocking and painful to witness — not just because it’s realistic, but because it is flawlessly choreographed to live and bleed within the action as it happens. The practical gags feel very much like classic Tom Savini effects, that carry both detail and weight. But as great as Savini’s effects work was in countless classic splatter films, most of those iconic moments were static shots that lived independently of the main action; they were the very definition of an “effects shot.” Cinematographer Laurent Barès (FRONTIERS) frames the violence with such balletic skill that the audience feels the moments, creating a horrific urgency that transcends mere gimmickry. A few dodgy CG shots aside, the pain of piercing scissor blades tearing through flesh and bone is palpable.
Unfairly compared to Pascal Laugier’s unpleasant, unrepentant MARTYRS (2008), INSIDE’s secret weapon is a pitch black sense of humor and a surprising pop sensibility. An intentionally over-the-top rollercoaster ride, its humor comes from the audaciousness of the narrative — which remains grounded in spite of the unrelenting violence and carnage on display. Never obvious or tongue-in-cheek, INSIDE also finds its humor in its honest determination to find the humanity in every wet, bloody moment. A sensual kiss shared between the two women in a bizarre attempt by La Femme at communion is both preposterous and completely “believable.” It’s also uncomfortably funny. The everyday casualness of La Femme’s horrifying plan to simply use a pair of scissors to cut out Sarah’s unborn baby is pure pitch-black comedy. When our protagonist, after giving herself a very realistic tracheotomy, goes hunting for La Femme with a handmade spear and the light from her camera flash, the film finds a surreal giddiness that its French contemporaries — including HIGH TENSION (2003) and THEM (2006) — could never hope to achieve.
It Goes There
INSIDE begins with the violent aftermath of a car accident and continues to push the limits of cinematic violence surrounding a pregnant woman. Recurring shots of Sarah’s baby (rendered in dodgy and already-dated CG) actually work in the film’s favor, as it gives the violent proceedings a welcome touch of cartoon surrealism. Fortunately, the majority of the effects are practical — and get more visceral as the film progresses. But Maury and Bustillo never let the audience forget that our protagonist is a very pregnant woman — and her unborn baby is the unfortunate passenger in this odyssey of violence. If the film had been “conceived” by American filmmakers, many of the more memorable (and decidedly European) flourishes would have been very different. Our heroine is not especially likable in the traditional sense — which makes her more human — and the threat of her losing her baby in this twisted world is tangible. La Femme has no problem stabbing the hand of the mom-to-be with a pair of scissors and impaling it to a wall. She also has no problem with killing Sarah if it means getting her unborn child. While the ending of INSIDE will remain (sort of) vague in this piece, it’s not pretty… and truly does go there.
The stunning French actress — who made a splash in the mid ’80s with the indie hit BETTY BLUE — gives a fully-invested performance as the psychotic intruder known only as “La Femme.” Her unflinching determination, both calculated and animalistic, is unlike any other screen psychopath committed to celluloid. La Femme veers from an icy, robotic Michael Myers persona to a graceful, even charming maternal figure with a frightening realism. Le Femme wants to get inside — and the actress finds a depth and authenticity at every psychotic turn. Dalle even manages, against all odds, to evoke sympathy in the final moments of her grueling pursuit. The last shot, and the moment that takes the film into a completely elevated plateau, is a pitch black moment of poignant lunacy — sold completely by Dalle’s performance.