The latest in my series of reviews for films with a rep for difficult-to-sit-through levels of brutality, The Weinstein Company’s 2007 French horror flick Inside starring Alysson Paradis, was quite a roller coaster ride. Actually, it was a ride that metaphorically had the impact of a serious automobile crash, which is perhaps a more apropos analogy considering the incident that presaged the nightmarish mess which the film’s main protagonist, Sarah, was to find herself in.
For the plot, Sarah is a pregnant photojournalist for a prominent French newspaper who seemed to have a happy marriage. This state of bliss was to come to a tragic and horrific end when during her fifth month of pregnancy, she was involved in a terrible automobile accident–with her in the driver’s seat–that killed her husband and seriously injured Sarah herself… albeit not in permanently crippling fashion, and her in utero daughter was left unscathed. Four months later, Sarah was mostly physically recovered, but as one may expect, she was still emotionally shattered. She obviously blamed herself for the accident that cost the life of her husband due to her lack of good road judgment at a crucial moment (actually, it was never revealed which driver was at fault in the head-on collision, but just go with me here…). This severe emotional malaise so soon after the accident prevented her from taking much joy in the impending blessed event. Nevertheless, she was still clearly determined to have and nurture the child that was all that was left in the world of her husband, and a manifested product of the happy union they once shared.
There is also a bit of first person character expository narration at the beginning of the film that all viewers should pay attention to. This is because while it’s not totally clear what it means at first, it provides a tantalizing clue that leads to the truly twisted twist towards the end of the movie that makes the motives of the psychotic woman who targets Sarah crystal clear. And when these motives are fully revealed, it throws a massive emotional curve ball to both Sarah and the viewer. It was, frankly, a brilliant twist that actually causes the viewer to see the sadistic psycho murderer who has targeted a pregnant woman in a sympathetic manner. I’m not kidding here! For those who manage to sit through the stomach-churning carnage that ensues up to that point, this emotional bombshell will be well worth the oral expulsion of bodily fluids the viewers may have endured to reach that revelation. It’s both the crux and, yes, the heart of this unreservedly morbid flick.
Anyway, to wrap up the basic synopsis, after the set-up prologue Sarah is seen being examined by her obstetrician on Christmas Eve (again, apropos considering I happen to be doing this review during the holiday season of 2014). She is overdue, but the baby is found to be healthy, and the doctor predicts she will likely go into labor over the next 24 hours. If she doesn’t, then she will be expected to journey to the hospital the following day to have the labor induced. Sounds suckish, right? Well, as bad as things were for poor Sarah up to now, had things gone the route of the anticipated Christmas birth, it would have been a pleasant walk in the park compared to what was about to occur that evening when she returned home. Where she was conveniently living alone, I should add.
No sooner was Sarah relaxing in the comfort of her home, then she received a knock on her door from a strange woman who made the cliched’ claim that the battery of her car had died, prompting her to ask if Sarah would be a good Samaritan and let her in the house to use her phone and make a call to what I presume to be France’s equivalent of the AAA for help. To her credit, the very non-naive Sarah can tell something is just “off” about this strange woman right away, and not only wisely refuses to let her in, but asks her the logical question as to why she doesn’t simply use her cell phone to call for help. Yup, the cell phone is an invention that throws a monkey wrench in the most time-honored method of the home invader that worked so well prior to the 21st century. Of course, the woman countered this logical question with the common cliche’ most often used to counter this line of query: she claimed her cell phone had died around the time the car did.
Again to her credit, Sarah wasn’t buying the obvious con job (I’m guessing she had seen as many horror flicks in the slasher and home invader sub-genres as the rest of us have), and told her mysterious visitor to look elsewhere for help or she would call the police. This is when things really start getting scary. The woman revealed that she knew who Sarah was; knew she was pregnant; and knew about the details of the car accident, and informed her she would know whom her visitor was was if she simply opened the door. Sarah wisely refused again, of course, but this is when the nightmare began going into full gear. The supremely unwelcome visitor refused to take no for an answer, and damaged one of the front windows.
Refreshingly, the strange visitor never cut the phone lines, another time-honored technique of antagonists from horror flicks which the invention of cell phones have likewise put a damper on. And Sarah’s own cell phone didn’t just happen to lose power or get dropped in the toilet bowl at the most inconvenient of times. Nope, screenwriter/directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo didn’t take the predictable and easy way out by turning Lady Luck against the protagonist. Sarah was able to call the police, and they did come promptly; and this despite some violent uprisings that were occurring in the suburb of Paris where Sarah lived. And one of the most horrific twists of this film was that even the police were unable to prevent the horrifying nightmare that was to consume Sarah’s life for the duration of the night, even when they were on the premises.
To make a long story short, this psychotic visitor–whose real identity would not be revealed until near the end of the film–launched a relentless and incredibly brutal home invasion on Sarah because she wanted to steal her baby. And by that, I mean while the infant was still in her mother’s womb. Of course, this woman could have simply waited for Sarah to have the delivery induced the following day, then broke into the house that night and taken the baby after she was born. But alas I don’t think like a psychotic, so what do I know? Moreover, there is good reason to believe that this highly unbalanced individual was actually highly desirous of doing major anatomical damage to Sarah in course of acquiring that precious payload in her abdomen.
So does the movie live up to its rep as one of the most brutal and compelling of the New French Horror cinema offerings that has taken the world by thunder over the past decade? To put it bluntly, yes. For the record, I did manage to sit through the whole flick without turning my head, but even my high level of tolerance for gore and explicit horror was put to the test a few times, and I did cringe. Warning: No matter your constitution, I advise against watching this film while eating, because it will put a damper on the enjoyment of your repast. Also take this serious warning to heart: if you’re a person or couple who has experienced the personal tragedy of a miscarriage, you should really avoid this flick like the proverbial plague, at least until you are reasonably emotionally recovered. It’s an understatement to say that watching this film will do your emotional state of mind no favors whatsoever.
Not to give away any major spoilers, but the rest of the film focuses upon Sarah’s desperate efforts to fend off the brutal attacks of this sadist. This woman is completely deranged, and while not a supernatural slasher in any way, she is maniacally relentless in her efforts to acquire what she came for, and would not hesitate in the least to viciously rip through any other person who gets in her way. And this she does with bloody aplomb to the various friends, relatives, and even police officers who arrive that night at the house periodically to check on Sarah or attempt to help her. This psycho has a very powerful motivation to accomplish her grotesque task, and her lack of supernatural powers is more than compensated by her single-minded determination, proclivity for quick thinking in any situation, and her seemingly inborn ability to use any type of implement she can get her hands on for deadly effect (she would have been a perfect contestant for the brutal contest depicted in Battle Royale). The degree of cruelty she exhibits when taking her victims is both an awesome and terrifying sight for the viewer to behold.
Sarah turns out to be no slouch or typical screamy damsel in distress despite the horrifying ordeal she has to deal with. The performance by Paradis in the role of the film’s protagonist is exemplary. The fact that she is quite pretty with beautiful raven-colored hair takes a bit of the unpleasantness out of the film for its viewers who swing that way sexual orientation-wise… but only a bit. The role of the featured antagonist, played by the also attractive French film veteran Beatrice Dalle, was also chillingly top-notch. She didn’t get a lot of dialogue, but she did a remarkable emotive performance during her non-speaking majority of screen time. When Dalle’s character did have words to speak they were done very well, and cut through the viewer with the same precision as the variety of sharp objects she got her hands on throughout the movie.
Other disturbing and tragic situations also beset Sarah as the result of the melee instituted by her psychotic visitor. One of them involves her having to perform an emergency tracheotomy on herself. That scene actually puts the impromptu tracheotomy performed on Eric Stoltz’s character in Anaconda to shame. You won’t see that being taught on an episode of Sesame Street, nor in a crash course on emergency first aid. And one of the murders constitutes perhaps the most horrifically depressing “oops!” moments in the history of horror cinema since the ending of The Mist.
The mood established by the directors was eerily compelling, and I must agree with Amazon reviewer Hugh Starkey when he says of this film: “One of the best horror (or any other film, for that matter) that I have ever seen”; and R. Loveren “DJ Waxternal” when he/she calls this flick, “One of the best and sickest horror films I’ve ever seen! It’s blunt, in your face, and unforgiving from the start to the end.” The movie had a minority of detractors amongst the reviewers, as is the case with all films, and while I respect their opinions, I sometimes wondered if they had seen the same flick that I did, or actually watched the unrated version in its entirety.
This movie’s unrelentingly dark tone and direction is enhanced by the fact it lacks almost any humor whatsoever; what takes place on screen is as dark as darkness gets. Despite the fact that most of the events occur in a single location, this actually works to the movie’s advantage, and never does it come off as fiscal corner cutting on the part of the filmmakers. The gore effects were very well done and sometimes disturbingly realistic, and they kept on coming and rarely failed to exceed the ones that came before.
Though the adversity was mainly between Sarah and her psychotic attacker, another stand out role is provided by one of the police officers who makes a heroic bid to protect the besieged woman from the relentless killer. This officer is played quite well by Nicolas Duvauchelle, and he serves as more than mere slash fodder for the psycho antagonist. But his ultimate fate is unexpected and tragic beyond belief, and Sarah pays as heavy a price for it as he does. You have to see it to understand the meaning of my words, but prepare yourself.
The only bit of humor provided is the reactions of a hapless young criminal whom the officer in question had arrested on a minor charge prior to being called for backup to Sarah’s residence. He pays the price for being at the wrong place, at the wrong time like few other horror film characters in the history of the genre. I’m confident that I’m not providing any major spoiler here by mentioning what you can probably figure out already: this poor was nothing more than the slasher film equivalent of one of the Away Team redshirts from an episode of Star Trek.
The degree of grotesque injuries that Sarah and her attacker inflicted upon each other using anything in the house each woman could get their hands on were among the most harrowing parts of the ensuing events to watch. The viewer was forced to repeatedly ask themselves exactly how much a nine month pregnant woman on the verge of going into labor could possibly take before taking a turn for the worst. That question is ultimately answered when Sarah–and her unborn daughter–finally do actually reach that limit. What happens when they do was one of the few scenes that made me truly cringe and want to stop watching… but I simply couldn’t. The horror of what I was watching was constantly balanced out by the fascination factor. That, along with my cheering for the brave Sarah, whose determination to survive and protect her unborn from being literally torn from her matched the relentlessness of the psycho killer attempting to commit her ghastly act of robbery.
The disturbing scenes of gore were punctuated by CGI shots of Sarah’s unborn child within her womb reacting to the various wounds inflicted upon Sarah’s body. Actually seeing the in utero infant suffering in that manner added an element of extreme emotional disturbance to a movie that already had more than enough of that on display outside of the womb. Those CGI effects served their purpose, but their quality wasn’t 100% convincing. For those who may remember, think of the quality of animation afforded to the dancing CGI baby that became such a popular meme on the Internet during the earlier days of the Web circa late 1990s, and you have a good idea of what to expect here.
This movie is an affordable 48 hour rental on Amazon Instant Video at $2.99 in standard definition (add a dollar to that for a rental in HD, for those who think that makes a significant difference). The movie is not available on Neflix at this writing. The dialogue is in French with English sub-titles. It’s more than worth the digital video rental price for Euro-Horror and slasher film aficionados.
For those with a high degree of tolerance for brutal gore in the extreme, and who appreciate sheer horror with a well conceived script that provides enough suspense and emotional blows along with the scenes of repellent carnage, then you could hardly do better than this. Just don’t consider this movie a good date flick, since your paramour will spend more time retching than clinging to you; and what they see over the course of the film may completely destroy any possible post-viewing romantic mood, if you get my drift, mate.
Psycho Attacker: “Sarah, m’dear, you just don’t think like a psycho, do you?”
Sarah: “Then can’t you be patient enough to wait for the baby to be born tomorrow?”
Psycho Attacker: “*Sigh*… Kindly refer to my previous comment, m’dear. I hate having to waste time repeating myself when I have an unprofessional medical procedure to perform…”