UK DVD release date: 15th April 2008
Running time: 83 mins
Director: Alexandre Bustillo, Julian Maury
Starring: Beatrice Dalle, Alysson Paradis, Nathalie Roussel
In recent years French cinema has lacked a certain edge, that the greats like Goddard and Truffaut had in abundance, and has been suffering under the emergence of Dany Boon and the likes as the new stars of the French screens. In 2008 Bustillo and Maury ripped through on to the scene with their directorial co-debut Inside, a film that will likely split the audience census and guaranteed to make the ladies in the audience reconsider caring the gift of life.
Having lost her husband in a car crash some four months earlier Sarah (Paradis) is settling in for her first Christmas alone and preparing to enter the greatest challenge life can bestow, becoming a mother. Inexplicably she is under siege by a menacing woman who seems hell bent on taking her baby by force.
The first thing you will notice about Inside is that the pacing of the film belongs to the classic presentation of horror cinema. Like Halloween, for example, the premise is a rather simple one and perhaps even one that might cause the audience some logical issues but unlike Halloween, Friday the 13th and the other “people under siege” sort of horror titles the narrative is very well thought out and constructed like a mystery, though one you don’t really have to play along with. The atmosphere is set beautifully through the slow methodical pace of the film as the cinematography and lighting all help create the genuine feeling of isolation that Sarah must be feeling during the biggest ‘family holiday’ in the year and in a house that is far too big from her alone. Several key scenes in the build up to La Femme’s assault (played by Beatrice Dalle) are wonderfully shot, either from behind elements of the mise-en-scene or shrouded in rich layers of shadow and light adding a natural menace that the audience can relate to and anthropologically is engrained in the viewer. This, coupled with a stripped down soundtrack leaves the house empty, rattling and menacing to the occupant.
Bustillo and Maury work wonderfully together as directors, their understanding of the mechanics of fear and how they translate to the visual are second to none. At times elements of horror gets lost in translation in foreign cinema. Many Japanese, Korean and Spanish horror films lose cultural threats in their translation to the English language audience but what Bustillo and Maury have tapped into is a universal fear and one that works regardless of language or background. Like Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) natural, instinctive and childhood fears are universal, endlessly scary and provide the best frights in a world of endless rehashing of slasher teen genre popcorn vehicles.
Alysson Paradis (as Sarah) is exceptionally good as the heavily pregnant protagonist. To be able to play a role that is helpless, fearful and vulnerable but at the same time has the hard edged animalistic instincts of a soon to be mother and all the protective rage that comes with it. Her ability to carry the audience alongside with her and portray all elements of the narrative through gesturality and tone is a genuine skill and of a caliber too rarely seen in the horror genre. Beatrice Dalle (Betty Blue) deserves all the credit that you could possibly muster. Dalle is visually striking at the best of times but in Inside is greater and more menacing that any horror villain offered up in recent cinematic history. Cloaked in black with a calm white hot rage Le Femme stalks her prey both around the parameter and the corridors of the house with simple looks that speak more to her state of mind than any exposition or grand gesturality could. Her stature and presence so powerful that she fills the screen with suspense and fear in every possible moment.
The scene in which Le Femme mounts a sleeping Sarah in her bedroom with the intention of cutting the child from her stomach is so painfully tense that breathing becomes more than an autonomic response. The struggle between the two women is almost epic with the tall, thin, darkly clad Le Femme pushing and pushing down on the white dressed Sarah in a beautifully framed and choreographed. Likewise the bathroom assault has echoes of The Shining but takes the suspense, fear and horror to a level that audiences would not have expected and will have issue with late at night for many months to come.
There are some minor issues with Inside. The supporting characters are extremely under developed and seem to be there as little more than an ensemble of parts for Le Femme to hack her way through, but it’s fitting and appropriate. This is not a story about families or groups of people. This is a two woman show, a one versus one and all the other players a little more than fodder. They are casualties of the battle between two sides and fodder is what all good horror films require to pay off the audiences expectations. Likewise, narratively, the police are two steps behind the pace with little chance of catching up and bumbling along in the idiotic way you’d expect in a horror film. This too is not really an issue, it’s a cinematic tradition of the genre. As an audience you expect there to be a resolution to the events taking place between the protagonist and the antagonist and it’s a cinematic demand that the conflict is resolved by either of these parties, for the police to step in, break it and arrest Le Femme would be a thorough disappointment. Thankfully this is not the case and Le Femme’s rage is visited upon everyone and everything that comes between her and Sarah’s baby. Other minor problems include the CGI of the baby (in the womb) as it reacts to the ongoing stresses it’s mother is enduring and a horror friendly ending that seems to sit uncomfortably with the events leading up to it, as Inside worked well as both horror and thriller until this point but ultimately coming down on the side of horror with a sequence that feels just a little out of place, stuck on and there to please a certain horror demographic.
There have been very few films that have managed to get under the amount of layers of skin that Inside managed. Your expectations prepare you for one film but what Bustillo and Maury deliver is your expectations in a steroid and paranoia induced rage that begins slow and steady before building to a heart stopping fast and fierce assault on your senses and sensibilities. Inside is a well written, directed, shot and acted horror that’s more intelligent than the standard and it’s appreciation is long passed it’s due date.