15 May 2008


Directed by: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Written by: Alexandre Bustillo
Full credits from IMDb

Grade: C+

The new French horror movie, Inside (À L'Intérieur) is like a shot of vodka or a roller coaster—it’s not for pregnant women. Béatrice Dalle invades the home of the eight-months-and-twenty-nine-days pregnant Alysson Paradis and proceeds to attack and torture her because she wants Paradis’ unborn baby; she’s trying to get it, by the way, with, gulp, a pair of scissors. For the expecting, this would have to be an unbearable show; for the rest of us, it’s mostly boilerplate slashergore, though with a bit more brains than one tends to get from the typical genre entry. Which makes sense, because if some poor distributor—in this case, the Weinstein Brothers—has taken the trouble to transport the film all the way across the Atlantic and to go through the process of subtitling it, it must have something to offer that Prom Night doesn’t.

It isn’t scares, though, because Inside is just blood, guts and social commentary. Notable for the formal innovation of including reaction shots of a computer-animated fetus, Inside opens with such a cutaway—an unborn child slams its head into a uterine wall, turning the amniotic fluid a bloody shade of pink and letting the audience know, cleverly if in poor taste, that a car accident has taken place. Whether that’s Inside at its worst is up for debate, but at the least the filmmakers aren’t shy about announcing the violence to come; the subsequent opening credits play out over fluid shots of blood, bodily organs and a gestating child. It would be naïve, bordering on foolish, for the viewer to expect that any film that opens as such will go on to be less violent, so clearly if a fetus getting its skull bashed in isn’t your idea of an appropriate movie night, Inside is best left unrented. (The violence is foreshadowed as early as the distributor credits; the film hits DVD thanks not to Dimension Entertainment, but to its extremist imprint Dimension Extreme. Consider yourself extremely forewarned.)

Four months later, Paradis, post-car crash, is on the cusp of giving birth but she’s feeling anxious about it, especially as her husband, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, died in the aforementioned accident. The filmmakers toss in a tender hallucination in which Tabourin’s hands slide, from off-frame, around Paradis’ bloated belly but, of course, the moment is (c)rudely interrupted by a flashback to his head cracking against the windshield. Later on, in a similar vein, a perfectly pleasant nap is punctuated by a nightmare, which features at least a quart’s worth of vomit as creamy as baby formula and parturition through the, er, oral canal.

Inside ups the gross-out factor with every reel, but at first its sense of horror is often elegant. (Graphic, perhaps, but sophisticated.) Saturated in a lemony haze, the film’s frights are built-up the old-fashioned way: Through shadows and ambiguity, such as a scene in which Dalle is obscurely visible in the rearground of Paradis’ living room, her outline slowly fading into the darkness. But once Dalle enters the light and is thus disambiguated—no longer a ghostly presence in or out of the house but a very literal one—what follows is a zippy bloodbath; Inside changes gears, switching from atmospheric horror to gruesome slasher slaughter. Though there’s something to be said for some of its gutsier choices, like keeping its heroine locked in a bathroom for most of the film, introducing foiled rescue attempt after foiled rescue attempt or the inclusion of a bitingly ironic murder, the film loses most of the brains behind its form. It still, however, retains some of the intelligence behind its story.

Although a lot of Inside is stupid, its metaphors vacuous—from its pretensions to Christian allegory (the film is set on Christmas Eve) and its overambitious nods toward Blow Up and Rear Window (with its phallic camera lenses) to the way it emphasizes the gaze, through shots of eyes peeping through holes, as though it’s making meaningful comments on the nature of spectatorship. But it does have two potent subtexts; one involves the issues Paradis has about becoming a mother, particularly in light of her recent widowhood, while the other is the recent rioting in the Paris suburbs. (“Inside” the womb vs. “inside” France.) By profession, Paradis is a photojournalist, just back from shooting the latest car fires on the outskirts of the City of Lights. Those riots pop up throughout the film, on television screens or later when we see the police toting a Franco-Arab prisoner, thus setting the film in a milieu of real violence. Inside suggests, forget those rampaging Muslims—look at what’s happening between white people, behind the closed doors of those seemingly somnolent Paris purlieus, beating each other bloody with unbabyproofed domestic wares like the common household toaster.

Watch the trailer:

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