FINALLY a horror movie where the characters are doing the smart fucking thing! Finally a horror movie that still manages to work around the situations needed to create fear and tension without stooping to implausibility!
This particular flick is called Inside and it’s another example of how the New French Extreme cinema movement is creating brilliant pieces of cinema for audiences. It’s dark and scary, the tension is maintained throughout, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and it still manages to have a thematic undercurrent that isn’t hammered into our skulls by a director wanting to show of their brilliance.
It’s a very gory film, and some of those images are going to follow, so keep a kitten on standby or brace yourself either way.
The film opens in utero (you read that right) and we see a baby floating around in the womb, while a soothing motherly voice speaks to it from outside. That gives way as we hear the noise of a car crash, and see the baby snap forward, and it’s quite painful to watch.
Outside the womb, we see pregnant photojournalist Sarah (our protagonist, played by Alysson Paradis) lying bloodied in the driver’s seat of a wrecked car, next to her much bloodier (and much deader) fiancée Matthieu. She’s barely conscious, but as the rain trickles in through her smashed windscreen, we have the tone of our film well and truly set, as we cut to our blood-soaked opening credits
Cut to four months later, and Sarah, now depressed and detached from the world, is going through the motions of her pregnancy. She’s set to give birth the next day (just so happens to be Christmas Day, but more on that later) but she’s pretty underwhelmed by the overall experience.
There’s a great little scene where a haggard old nurse speaks to her in the waiting room, lighting up a cigarette next to her, talking about the brutal experience of giving birth. Sarah succinctly replies by calling her a twat, before her mother Louise arrives to pick her up.
They have a small scene, which firmly establishes that Louise loves Sarah deeply, but that Sarah is just too depressed to deal with people right now, and wants to spend her Christmas alone. She sits in a park, sadly watching a couple play with their toddler, and snaps a few photos. She’s met here by her editor Jean-Pierre, who offers to check in on her later on in the night.
At home, she develops some of her photos before bed. As she looks sadly over her old happy photos, there’s a brilliant scene where Matthieu appears behind her, naked, caressing her and her pregnant belly lovingly. She gives in to the illusion, and the music swells romantically before coming to a shuddering and jarring halt as it cuts back to his head hitting the windscreen in the car crash.
I loved this, because it really enforces 1) just how not ok Sarah is, 2) that she’s definitely not able to let go of the accident, and 3) that she had a really happy life before said accident. This is all done wordlessly, just watching her reactions to things, and it must be said that Alysson Paradis has one of the most expressive faces around.
She falls asleep in her rocking chair and wakes gasping for air. She falls to the ground heaving, and vomits up considerable quantities of milk, before starting to convulse – and a baby erupts from her gasping mouth. So clearly, this is a nightmare, and even though it only lasts about 30 seconds, I think it’s the only foot the movie puts wrong. It does deal with the thematic undercurrent of the film (Sarah’s fear of pregnancy, but more on that later) but it’s not as subtly done as what’s come before it. But oh well, it’s not too big a distraction.
She’s woken by the doorbell ringing. When she looks through the peep hole, she can’t see the woman standing on the other side, which unsettles her. The woman (Beatrice Dalle) asks to come inside and use Sarah’s phone, claiming her car has broken down. Sarah questions her lack of a mobile phone, and the woman claims the battery died – Sarah still refuses to let her in, lying and saying that her husband is asleep upstairs. The woman is insistent, but Sarah sticks to her story. Then the woman replies, “Your husband’s not sleeping Sarah. He’s dead.”
Understandably, this upsets Sarah, and she continues to refuse to let the mysterious woman in. She threatens to call the police, looks through the peephole again, but the woman is gone. She immediately goes around to her other windows and peers through them (but maintaining a safe distance from them, because she’s not an idiot) before coming across the woman standing at her patio door, lighting a cigarette – and it’s weird how we get to see her face, but at the same time, we don’t.
Sarah immediately calls the police from her mobile, and tells the woman that they’ll be here soon. The woman responds by punching the glass, scaring Sarah. Sarah immediately grabs her camera and tries to take photos of the woman, but the damage to the glass obscures the photos. When Sarah stops taking photos, the woman is gone.
I love this scene, because it establishes that this woman is a force – you know that she will eventually get in the house (the plot says so!) but it’s not at the expense of Sarah’s integrity or intelligence. Sarah does the right things here. She calls the police, she keeps the doors locked, she keeps the woman in her sights and even tries to get photos. It doesn’t try to play on cheap thrills at the thought of her attacking Sarah, it doesn’t try to generate scares where they’re not. The film knows that it’s scary to have someone in or outside your house, and that their mere presence is frightening enough.
Sarah develops her photos while she’s waiting for the police, and discovers that the woman was following her earlier in the park. The police arrive, and I love that Sarah is still apprehensive when she hears the doorbell ring – until she sees the comforting flashes of their lights and knows it’s them.
She lets them in, and while one guy scouts the perimeter of the house, the other two take questions. Given that there’s not much Sarah can give them, they leave, assuring her that there will be a patrol car stopping by later in the evening. Sarah also calls Jean-Pierre, asking him if he’ll be able to enhance some of the photos she’s taken of the woman.
Then comes my absolute favourite shot of the film. Sarah is asleep on the couch, and the camera pushes in on her. Her cat plays around her, waking her up. Then the camera pulls back as Sarah turns off her TV, and we see that what you first think is just darkness in the background is actually the woman from before! She got in! This shot is so subtle about the way it works and so effective that it just had to get its own mention. It lets us know that the woman is in the house, it lets us know that she’s moving around unseen, it’s creepy and literally chilling – the point where I realised it was her, my blood ran cold.
The woman retreats to the blackness again, and Sarah retires to bed, and we see her climbing her stairs with difficulty (again, the film smartly and subtly telling the viewer that the house is a space to navigate difficultly without having to have a character explicitly state it.)
For a brief time, the film follows the woman, as she watches Sarah sleep, then explores the house a little, rummaging through Sarah’s nursery, before acquiring a long pair of scissors, and you instantly know this isn’t ending prettily. We also finally get to see the woman bathed in light – until now, she’s stuck to the shadows and we haven’t really been able to comprehend her, but we finally get a good look at her (although not her face – it’s amazing how this movie keeps you from seeing her without ever making it obvious that that’s what it’s doing)
She goes back into Sarah’s room, and carefully sterilises the scissor blades, before placing one in Sarah’s navel and pushing down. This naturally wakes Sarah up, and the woman slashes her face with the scissors. Sarah puts up a brief struggle before she smashes a lamp on the woman’s head and escapes to the bathroom, locking herself in. I love that this small fight scene also cuts in shots of Sarah’s baby, to remind you that it’s not only her life at stake.
The woman tries to get in for a while, before returning to the bedroom. In the bathroom, Sarah examines her face in the mirror. She’s distraught and scared (as anyone would be) and oh, what’s this? She’s left her phone in her bedroom. I love that the movie was able to smartly and organically work in a way to deprive Sarah of her phone without resorting to copout or cliché. In the bathroom, Sarah’s water breaks, and she suddenly remembers the puncture in her belly, which she tends to.
Trust me – it gets worse for her.
Down in the kitchen, the woman grabs some ice to put on her head where Sarah clobbered her, as she hears the sounds of Jean-Pierre letting himself in to check up on Sarah. He sees the woman, and assumes she is Sarah’s mother. The woman plays along with this charade (and we finally get a good look at her face!), while Sarah is still hidden away in the bathroom.
Jean-Pierre is about to leave, but the woman offers him a drink instead. While they have awkward chit-chat, he uncovers one of the photos Sarah took of the woman. Up in the bathroom, Sarah finds one of those long knitting-needle-chopstick things that women put in their hair, and claims it as her weapon. Back downstairs, the woman tries to pass the photos off as “her daughter” always taking photos, and is about to kill him when they’re interrupted by Louise, also coming to check up on Sarah.
Louise senses something is amiss with two strangers in the house, and immediately runs upstairs to find Sarah. Sarah, thinking the woman is returning (and unaware of Jean-Pierre’s presence) accidentally stabs her mother in the neck with the hair-thingamo, while downstairs, the woman kills Jean-Pierre. Gruesomely. I’ll be kind here, and I won’t tell you about how the woman stabs him in a kneecap first, and then stabs him in the groin, and then in through his face a few times before slitting his throat, spraying blood all over the walls in a chaotic frenzy of mayhem, because if I told you about that, it might gross you out a little. There is a lot of blood shed in these two scenes.
Sarah realises what she’s done, and is extra-distraught on top of her terror already, but wisely locks herself back in the bathroom. The woman comes upstairs, stabs the bathroom door with the scissors, then goes about disposing of Jean-Pierre’s body. Turns out he’s not quite dead though, and she kills him by smothering him with a pillow – which she then plunges the scissors through to stab him in the head.
While the woman is downstairs, Sarah tries to get her phone from her bedroom, only to find that the woman took it earlier. On the way back to the safety of the bathroom, Sarah is attacked by the woman, and they have another skirmish where the woman rips off some of Sarah’s hair, before Sarah grabs the woman’s arm and drives the hair-needle into her wrist. The woman releases her grip on Sarah, but she’s only angrier now. She lights a cigarette to calm herself down (while the film jumps and twitches to show us how psychotic she is – because we didn’t already have a good enough impression of that) and then snaps Sarah’s cat’s neck. :’-(
Sarah’s contractions have started, and the woman, hearing Sarah’s pain, begins to cry, before hacking a hole in the door and revealing that she wants Sarah’s baby. But the police patrol has turned up, and this causes more problems. They’ve got a guy in custody already (there’s a few mentions made throughout the film of rioting happening in the city) and they’re keen to get him to the station.
The woman locks Sarah in the bathroom, and then pretends to be Sarah, sending the police on their way. In the meantime, Sarah has hacked a hole through the door, and as she puts her arm out to move the bookcase locking her in, the woman grabs her hand and nails it to the wall with the scissors.
The police are almost fooled until they realise that the woman who made the report earlier was pregnant. They return to the house, one of them detaining the woman briefly (he dies via a kitting needle she hid in her sleeve) while the other runs upstairs. He removes the scissors from Sarah’s hand, and then gets her to unlock the bathroom door. He’s barely had a second to look at Sarah before his head explodes from a gunshot delivered by the woman. Seriously, it’s the bloodiest head explosion since Scanners. One thing I like here is that Sarah’s immediate response is uncontrollable screaming as his brain matter hits her in the face.
She locks herself in the bathroom again, but the woman shoots out the lock – she moves into the bathroom but is distracted by the remaining policeman who stayed in the car. He ties the prisoner they detained to him and runs inside to investigate the gunshots. I love that the prisoner (a teenager who has more bravado than balls) is distraught by the sights he’s seeing and vomits a lot (which we mercifully don’t see).
The woman shuts out the power, and the policeman gives Sarah a gun to defend herself while he goes downstairs to fix the circuit breaker. He tells her to wait in her bedroom. The woman finishes the policeman and the prisoner off (with a stungun to the face and a pair of scissors to the head, respectively) before returning to Sarah once more.
There’s a peculiar scene where the woman caresses Sarah’s body, thinking her dead, and kisses her – Sarah opportunistically bites off the woman’s lip, before fleeing downstairs, finding all the bodies killed so far.
The woman follows Sarah into the kitchen and gives her another beating, but Sarah manages to get the upper hand – by holding a knitting needle to her belly, threatening her child. Well, so it seems anyway – the woman grabs the toaster and deftly smacks Sarah down with it. Thinking that she’s won, the woman lights a cigarette, only for Sarah to grab a can of air freshener and spray it on the flame, torching the woman’s face.
Battered and bruised, choking on her own blood, Sarah performs a self-tracheotomy with the knitting needle, before gaffer-taping the wound. She finds the woman, corners her, and we find out that the woman was in the other car of the crash that opened the film. The baby we saw at the beginning was hers, and it died. The woman wants Sarah’s baby as revenge for the loss of her own.
Told you it got worse.
They’re interrupted by the lights coming back on. Turns out that third policeman didn’t die, but his brain was fried by the stun gun. In his state, he confuses Sarah for the woman, and begins to attack her. The woman kills him, but it’s too late – Sarah has started giving birth, but the baby is stuck.
The woman then takes the scissors and literally cuts open Sarah’s womb, digs around inside and retrieves the baby, cradling it soothingly while Sarah dies on the stairs, leaving a waterfall of blood flowing down the stairs.
This film is incredible. I’m also aware of the massive disservice I’ve probably done it in writing about it; because on paper it will sound a lot cheaper and more meaningless than the film is.
First things first – there is not a bad performance in this film. Alysson Paradis is the standout for me here, but every single actor gives a pitch-perfect performance, and that grounds the film in reality, despite its horror film nature.
Secondly, something needs to be said of the film’s score. It’s all well and good for a horror film to play up to the mood-associations of music, but the majority of music in this film is eerie and beautifully haunting. It’s largely string music and a few of the deeper woodwinds (what sounds like an oboe features a fair bit) and that gives the film a great feeling of significance. While it’s a gory horror film, it doesn’t feel like it’s doing ot to make a quick buck.
The film is just constructed so well, I’m left stunned in admiration. It runs for 76 minutes, and doesn’t waste a single one of them – it’s tightly paced, well thought out and effective. I love how they’ve tweaked horror conventions in this film – at first the woman appears as this enigmatic shape, and you think they won’t show you her face, but then they do, even though you still can’t make her out – when she lights that cigarette for the first time, you get a massive shot of her face, but you still can’t get a good handle on it. But rather than carry that through the entire film, they do let you see her in full detail. It’s really effective, because it makes you see her as another character – not just the villain of the piece. The way the film bathes its scenes in chiaroscuro lighting is also amazing, and makes you think that a lot more thought went in to the set pieces than just “make them jump”.
I love how smart it is too, in working in reasonable ways for things like Sarah’s phone not being available, to her solitude, to the “twist” ending where the woman turns out to have her significance to Sarah. It makes it a film of characters, rather than devices.
I also love the thematic concern of how Sarah is terrified of the baby inside her. It’s hinted at early in the film that she doesn’t want the baby at all, and that she’s too depressed to look after it when it does come. I love how this is echoed in through little things – the fact that her baby is being born on Christmas Day is not some religious metaphor, but a reiteration of her loneliness – she’s spending Christmas alone with only a burden. The nightmare, while a little out-of-place in the film, also shows how she thinks the baby will destroy her. What an irony then, that it does in the end. But again, this isn’t driven home every second. There’s no messianic allegory for her baby being born on Christmas Day – that’s just the date it happens, and it reminds you how lonely Sarah would be (had she not, y’know, been killed)
Is the film perfect? No. The nightmare scene does feel really out of place, and the scene where the film fractures around the woman to show her state of mind is too obvious. This is, despite its content, a remarkably subtle film, and those moments take you out of it.
There’s also a tendency in some of the death scenes or scenes of violence for the music to become this shrill, warped sound – it works sometimes, but not all of the time, and the film would be better if they’d used that effect more sparingly. And, finally, it must be said that there is one gaping hole of logic – the woman could’ve waited for Sarah to give birth then steal the baby, rather than risk the baby’s life by beating the crap out of Sarah…
But all of that aside,this is a full-on, intense, tense, scary and horrific horror film that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence at all. If you want an idea of the tone of the film, the poster says it all – beautiful, but unsettling at the same time. It’s one of the bloodiest films I’ve ever seen, but there’s a definite art to the film’s gore. There’s a kind of hidden beauty in it all, disturbing though that might sound. It’s hard to stomach, but at the same time, it’s not, and it’s a rare thing.
So for a brave, smart, well-made film that works – see Inside.