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21st Nov 07
The Woman (Dalle) wants a baby. Specifically the baby that recently-widowed photo-journalist Sarah (Paradis) is about to give birth to. And nothing - or no-one - is going to stand in her way.
Occasionally a film comes along that just knocks the stuffing out of you like a kick to the stomach. Inside (À l'intérieur) is one such film and its outstanding achievement signals the arrival of an exciting pair of talented French filmmakers to the horror genre. On the three occasions that I've caught the film on the festival circuit, never have I seen audiences bite their nails quite so much or mutter "Oh f*ck!" or "Oh my God!" repeatedly as a story unfolds. Like it or loathe it, Inside can't fail to provoke a strong reaction from those who dare see it.
In essence, it's a simple tale about birth and death. The film establishes its bleak tone right from the off in a pre-credits sequence in which Sarah's partner is tragically killed in a car accident. The grief-stricken photographer survives the crash and is left to face impending motherhood with just her own mum (Roussel) and boss (Marchasson) for support. A few months later, on Christmas Eve, the now heavily pregnant Sarah is spending her last night at home before she's due to go into hospital where her doctor will induce labour. All is calm; she knits quietly while her cat curls up beside her and falls asleep in the chair.
Sometime later she's awoken by a sharp knock at the door. It's a lady whose car has broken down in the rain outside asking if she can use the phone to call for help. Sarah is reluctant to let a stranger into her home and suggests that she tries one of the neighbours instead. However the woman is persistent, eventually revealing that she knows not just Sarah's name but a whole lot more about her personal circumstances. The police are called but the mysterious visitor has fled by the time they arrive. Danger averted? For now perhaps... but the deadly game of cat and mouse has only just begun.
Since its debut at Cannes in May Inside has garnered a reputation as one of the most intense and bloody films of recent years. Yet for what is essentially a two-hander, the first question most people ask after hearing about the film is, "Can it really be that gory?" Let me assure you, it is. The film joyously jets blood at every opportunity, and despite its deceptively simple set-up, manages to ensure that the blood keeps flowing by systematically introducing other elements without ever feeling contrived.
Beginning with a stab to the face with a pair of scissors, the violence escalates to almost unparalleled levels. Without wanting to give away any spoilers let's just say that when you think you've seen it all, something else will happen to top what's gone before. With newcomers Bustillo & Maury at the helm you quickly come to realise that there are no lines that they will not cross. Be warned, at times this film does not make for pleasant viewing! So steel yourself, you may need a cast iron stomach to come out of this one with your lunch intact.
Gore is all well and good, but it's nothing without context, and thankfully Inside is so much more than just a splatter film. It's interesting to note that in the first draft of the screenplay the villain of the piece was a male character who dined on human fetuses. Switching the sex (and motivation) of the character is a wise move and affords the story greater gravitas. Whilst employing a predatory female is hardly breaking any new ground, there is still something unequivocally shocking at watching one woman mercilessly meting out unspeakable acts of violence against another.
The casting of Béatrice Dalle as the nameless woman in black is a masterstroke - she is simply terrifying as the unstoppable angel of death, creating what must surely be one of the most evil female characters ever to grace the silver screen. Yet she never dominates the film; Alysson (sister of Vanessa) Paradis is equal to the task and offers up a tremendously powerful and affecting portrayal of the victim forced to protect her unborn baby against this vengeful female.
With heavyweight performances from its two leading ladies Inside requires confident direction, so kudos to first-timers Bustillo & Maury for drawing upon their passion for giallo and slasher films (Bustillo is a former journalist for Mad Movies) to fashion a movie which positively crackles with tension. The atmosphere and feeling of dread is cranked up to the max throughout, heightened by a sparse electronic score which unsettles the viewer in much the same way that the sound design in Irreversible worked to great effect. One stand out scene has Sarah sat in a chair, unaware of The Woman's presence directly behind her, slowly fading into the background. It's a truly bone-chilling moment.
Following in the footsteps of their compatriots Xavier Gens (Frontiere(s) and the imminent Hitman) and David Moreau & Xavier Palud (Them and the forthcoming remake of The Eye) it's perhaps no surprise to learn that the duo have already been snapped up by Hollywood to direct the new Hellraiser 're-imagining' with Clive Barker's full approval. On this evidence, one remains cautiously optimistic that the much loved franchise is in safe hands.
Whilst I'd hesitate to recommend Inside to anyone who is expecting a child in the very near future, it's unquestionably a transgressive piece of filmmaking which actively pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable to show on screen, and for that it should be applauded. In an environment increasingly populated by teen-friendly horrors, it's refreshing to discover a film that pulls no punches and leaves a lasting impression. Whether you'll ever want to watch it again is a moot point, but you certainly won't forget its images in a hurry as you suddenly find yourself numb and shaking days later.
Further Information Inside has been picked up by The Weinstein Company for release in the US, but at the time of writing the film has yet to find a UK distributor. You can visit the official website at www.alinterieur.fr.
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