Inside is one of the most brutal and harrowing horror thrillers ever produced. It is a film of such intensity that after first viewing I was physically exhausted and mentally drained. Even after repeat viewings this fabulous example of the French New Wave of extreme cinema is still one of my favorite ever films.
Swapping between shots of a car crash taking place and in utero (uterus) footage of the impact on an unborn fetus, the basis of Inside is established in its opening sequence. The heavily pregnant Sarah, played by Alysson Paradis, survives the accident but her husband is killed. Right from the very beginning it is clear that that the visual horror during the film is going to be powerful – the blood and wounds sustained by both Sarah and her husband are graphic and realistic, the screen is drenched in blood and the film has barely started.
The story jumps to four months later, it is Christmas Eve and Sarah’s baby, having survived the crash, is due to be induced on Christmas Day. Sarah leaves the hospital having had a scan, and after making arrangements with her boss (who she is clearly very close to) to pick her up in the morning she returns to her impressive home in the Paris suburbs. From here the film quickly becomes sinister and then descends into a relentless bloody horror. Before discussing the latter horror, the former chilling build-up is an often over looked aspect of this film and, relatively brief as it is, it contains what could be considered to be one of horrors most chilling moments.
It is understandable that the epic pace and deranged brutality of the second half of Inside is the most discussed aspect of this work, but the scenes where the female intruder (known only in the credits as La Femme) arrives at Sarah’s home and ultimately enters it are masterpieces of almost Hitchcockian terror. They are chilling – and the sense of doom that the goddess of French alternative cinema, Beatrice Dalle, brings to the character of La Femme is as disturbing as any of the violent horrors seen later in the piece.
When the doorbell rings, Sarah is cautious and does not open it. The female voice on the other side of the door requests the use of her phone, claiming her car has broken down. Sarah refuses, and lies that her husband is asleep and she doesn’t want to disturb him. The voice at the door corrects her “your husband is not asleep, he’s dead”. Panic sets in and Sarah calls the police. The dark figure of a woman appears at the rear windows, staring in – motionless. Sarah flashes off photo after photo, highlighting the figure in white light and capturing her face. The police arrive and search the grounds, they give the all clear and agree to check in on Sarah later in the evening.
Sarah sleeps restlessly in her couch, and in a moment of sheer terror that elicited raised hairs on crawling skin, the white face of La Femme fades in and out of the darkened doorway behind her. She is in the house! This sequence, as mentioned previously, should be regarded as one of the genres finest. It was thrillingly understated – reminiscent of The Shape appearing from the shadows in Halloween and was more terrifying than the girl coming out of the television in The Ring. The sense of dread that it creates is palpable, and it proved that the viewer is in the hands of film-makers who can terrorize with a light touch as well as a heavy hand.
Sarah retires to her bed, unaware of the intruder in her home – and her next waking moment is La Femme plunging scissors into her pregnant naval, recoiling in shock and pain she has her face viciously slashed. Lest we forget the opening car crash scenes, we are reminded that the gore and violence in this movie will be graphic and lingering – the viewer is not going to be spared, if this cinematic ride is chosen it will have to be lived through. Sarah scrambles into her bathroom, locking herself in. The film from this point is an almost unbroken sequence of violence, mutilation and viscous murders.
Dalle delivers a typically powerful performance. Her body movements and mannerisms reinforce the maniacal evil that her character represents. She’s almost like a demon emitting hate, or a robot incapable of any kind of deviation from her terrible intent. La Femme is clearly mad, Dalle demonstrates that with fits of stamping and fist banging. Not only is she mad, but she’s frustrated and irate – almost indignant at Sarah’s attempts to protect herself.
La Femme fully intends to get at Sarah, but she’s locked in the bathroom. A bloody and exciting “cat and mouse” game is played out – the threat is unending, but during the course of the evening La Femme is interrupted by various characters that she either needs to try to get rid of without attracting attention or, if that is unsuccessful, brutally murder.
The fear La Femme elicits is greater than the sum of all the franchise “Slashers” put together – Freddy and Jason wouldn’t stand a chance. As brilliant as the direction and visual effects used in this film are – it would be significantly poorer if Dalle had not been cast as the antagonist. Dalle is enigmatic in that her allure is difficult to define, but she always brings a powerful presence to the screen and here she channels it as pure deranged evil that is beautiful and repulsive in equal measures.
Inside is another example of the often overlooked importance of a powerful score in genre films. Here it is perfectly arranged and used in an extremely effective manner to bolster fear and tension. It is not surprising to note that the Music Editor for this production also worked on Haute Tension.
Before the film’s final, blood drenched scene – which is hard not watch open-mouthed, if indeed one can stomach it – we are exposed to hands being stabbed to walls, eyes burst with spikes, groins repeatedly stabbed with knives and heads blown in half. These and other transgressive treats are burnt into our consciousness by directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury during the 80 minutes that it takes for Inside to play out.
Despite all of the truly ferocious violence experienced during this film, there is still a sense that our worst fear for what La Femme wants to do to Sarah will not happen – or that if it does it will not be shown in detail. Perhaps this is because it is too despicable to contemplate, challenging every instinct of what it is to be human. Inside needs to be experienced to fully understand its power, and the finale should be embarked upon without too much being spoiled in the way of details.
As the end credits roll, the true impact of the sum of this films parts are felt. Few films have left me breathless and worn out from the physical effects of stress and adrenalin, but Inside did. It temporarily degenerates the mind, but as this subsides the thrill of the film can be properly enjoyed and appreciated.
This movie doesn’t leave you for a long time; a part of one’s brain will forever be tattooed with the violence and insanity of La Femme. Allow yourself to be immersed in this film, watch it in the dark, and see if it doesn’t just do the same to you.
This article and others can also be read at: