26 May 2024

31 Days of Horror: Day 9- Inside (2007)

Despite the gruesome creatures, flying limbs and buckets of blood, horror as a genre can feel pretty stale. For every excellent film there is a dozen forgettable or terrible ones. And there are so many that it takes a lot of wading through the rubbish to get to the interesting stuff. For each day in October I’m going to recommend a different horror film or film about horror.  For the most part they won’t be the accepted classics. My selections range from the genuinely excellent to the delightfully strange with a few that are more fascinating than they are great. Hopefully there will be something for everyone and you’ll find something new to give you a scare or maybe a laugh. This is my 31 days of Horror and today I’m talking about: Inside.

Horror as a genre has always tried to make us feel unsafe. From the 50’s B-movies using gimmicks like The Tingler to make people feel more scared in a theatre to body horror films like The Fly making us afraid of what our body could do to us. The subgenre of home invasion horror movies prey upon our fears and insecurities by showing we’re not even safe in our homes. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s film Inside exploits this and adds to the mix the most at risk of protagonists, a heavily pregnant woman. It’s a violent attack on us at our most vulnerable with an unrelenting intensity throughout. Inside includes the rampant bloodiness of its New French Extremity contemporaries (like High Tension, Frontiers and Martyrs) but it’s more concerned with tension and suspense than torture-porn.

Months after a car accident killed her husband, expectant mother Sarah (Alysson Paradis) spends Christmas Eve alone awaiting the upcoming delivery. A mysterious woman (Beatrice Dalle credited as La femme) appears at Sarah’s door asking to use her telephone. Sarah lies and says no because her husband is sleeping. La femme replies by saying that she knows Sarah’s husband is dead. She then appears at Sarah’s back door and the police are called. There’s no sign of the woman but a patrol car will come by and check again so Sarah heads to bed. She sleeps until she is awoken by the feeling of scissors pressing against her stomach, and then her fight for survival begins.

A lot of the horror films that came out of the New French Extremity movement were pretty torture heavy but Inside owes a lot more to Hitchcock than to Hostel. Inside is an exercise in tension; from about 15 minutes in it is a non-stop battle within this woman’s home. Blood flies as people are shot, stabbed and beaten but it surprisingly never becomes too gratuitous. Don’t get me wrong it is a very violent film but it feels like it’s just presenting each wound as it would realistically look. Blood doesn’t shoot out like in Kill Bill yet people end up covered in it. It never seems to revel in violence as much as it uses it to portray the progression of this housebound bloodshed. The steady escalation of violence is not only horrifying but brings in an anxious anticipation as we futilely hope that things won’t get worse. From the first shot of a baby in utero we are presented with the threat of the death of a child. The ultimate innocent caught in this horrible scenario just enhances the feeling of vulnerability. Violence can often just be a shock tactic but in Inside it is a constant reminder of what La femme is capable of. As much as you think babies and pregnant women are off limits the intensification of the violence makes you doubt that entirely. All it takes is one psychotically driven woman and no one is safe, a terrifying thought the film hammers home.

As much as it could appear that this is just a sickening gore-fest of a film it really is much more tense than it is grotesque. One shot in particular that epitomises this is when the lead character is lying on her couch. The police have just left and she feels safe after the initial encounter with La femme. As the camera pulls back we see the shelf behind the couch and an open door to a darkened room. It moves further and further back until we see that the empty room is in fact occupied. The vague shape of a person is standing in the darkness with a face barely lit. Sarah doesn’t know how unsafe she currently is but we are painfully aware. La femme is who is in control; Sarah’s complacency with her own security is what will damn her. Like everyone, Sarah assumes that if her doors are locked and she’s told everything’s fine then it is. It is such a quietly scary moment but also another reminder of our own vulnerability. While older films focused on making audiences fear the theatre, Inside focuses on the new generation of viewers watching films at home. The last refuge from horrors is rendered completely susceptible to terror. Inside exploits our subconscious fears of darkened doorways and the unpredictability of strangers in such a cruelly frightening way.

The image of a pair of scissors hovering over a pregnant woman’s stomach is upsetting on its own. That provides the starting point for the next hour of relentless struggle and a constantly escalating threat. It is a film that shocks you by how quickly it gets going and from that point on it does not stop. The two leads are perfect as the terrified expectant mother desperately trying to survive and the unpredictable violent presence respectively. Beatrice Dalle in particular as La femme is an incredibly fearsome force-of-nature, she completely sells the sickening madness of her character. Rather than removing the emotion from the crazy killer like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees, Dalle brings a twisted emotion to La femme. She is as driven to destroy as Sarah is to survive, they’re like a warped mirror image of each other. It is a terrifying and constantly tense film that uses all of our ideas of vulnerability to be as intensely disquieting as possible.

James M Macleod

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