Inside begins, as its title suggests, in utero, with the image of a fetus that is about to be ruptured by an unseen car wreck. Four months later, the survivors Sarah (Alysson Paradis) and her unborn child are ready for the impending birth. It is Christmas Eve, and the newly widowed Sarah is despondent about the prospect of her first baby.
An understandable apathy, to be certain. The cruelty of having one of the happiest moments of life, indeed the giving of life, be tainted by grief (on Christmas Eve, no less) is no dust under the carpet.
Thus is the introduction to the sensationalized exploitation horror flick Inside, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. Part of the short-lived shock film movement of the New French Extremity, the film tells its tale of torment and violence from the inside out. Most obviously, there is the fragility of the baby, which we see in a nightmarish vision being violently excreted from Sarah’s mouth.
But there is also the outside threat of La Femme (Beatrice Dalle), who comes to Sarah’s house in the middle of the night intent on finding her way inside. There is also the woman’s initial excuse for wanting to seek shelter in Sarah’s house: there are increasingly violent protests in the street over the death of two immigrants by the police.
The inside of Sarah’s house is meant to be a sanctuary from these threats. The police even come to assure her that she will be safe from the mysterious woman. But, of course, La Femme finds her way inside.
Just as the house is easily penetrable, never really fooling any viewer that it will keep Sarah safe from harm, Sarah’s womb functions as the same vulnerable place of domesticity.
As a result, the film can be read as thematically two-fold. There are abortion parallels, most overtly. The first introduction of a pair of scissors is enough to cause skin-crawling acknowledgment as to what will likely come to pass.
But the function of the fetus seems to be more in line with an identity narrative than an abortion narrative. When Sarah is first attacked, she raises her arms in defense, and the unborn child does the same in utero. Both the mother and the child are attacked by the blade similarly, as well.
The child is really just a stand-in for the mother’s vulnerability, but it is not her vulnerability as a pregnant woman. It is, seemingly, a vulnerability as a person of relatively well-off social status. While rioters burn cars in the streets, she remains safely indoors in a well-furnished house. There is no reason for her to feel afraid or in danger, and when she does it is entirely unexpected to her.
Of course, this thematic reading is only tread skin deep in the film. What we get more of is the intense gore that the “Extreme” distribution label promises, a series of brutal deaths that do not add to any thematic depth whatsoever.
Only the outskirts of this film have anything important to say. There is a brief subplot involving the police and one of the rioters, who is treated poorly for being a young punk and not being a Christian. It could be a social commentary on the state of immigration and xenophobia in France. But, no, let’s get back to stabbing a woman with scissors instead.
It would be great to be able to call Inside a masterstroke of extreme cinema, to herald the film for externalizing internal states in excessively gory ways in order to grope at real driving societal issues. It would be great if the film probed at something deeper in the psyche, some perverted notion of the human condition that society often ignores.
Instead, you know, stabby stabby!
For all that the film fails at in this regard, it does succeed in illustrating such bodily horror. The effects work is resplendent in what otherwise appears to be a low budget horror film. the in utero shots don’t age progressively, and likely didn’t look great for the time, either.
However, there are plenty of makeup, prosthetic, and prop work that make for a slashing, stabbing, exploding good time. If only it amounted to anything more than genre schlock.
The New French Extremity runs the gamut of success when it comes to these things. Never bolted down as a coherent movement, each film provides its own style and substance. Inside retains some mainstream appeal, as it is effectively a shooting gallery-style slasher flick, but it misses out on what the New French Extremity really has to offer: the gritty realism of broken identities.
If anything, Inside loses itself within the genre conventions that it uses to blend the New French Extremity with the slasher, leaving the final product to be nothing better than a kitschy cult favorite for horror fans to gravitate toward.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)