Wednesday, October 22, 2014

31 Days of Horror: Inside

Beatrice Dalle torments Alysson Paradis in French horror-thriller Inside.
In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 22: Inside (2007)

I have seen a lot of horror films – more than most people and not as many as some. They have been of wildly differing quality, and most have offered wildly differing experiences. I have seen extreme levels of blood, guts, and gore, and I have seen films that revel in their restraint. If asked to put a figure on it, I would say I have seen something in the neighborhood of 600 or 700 horror films. I say none of this to boast, only to provide context for the following statement: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside (À l’Intérieur) is the most intense film I have ever seen.

It is 82 minutes of gripping tension broken by the occasional act of extreme violence, but rather than providing release at any point, each new incident further tightens the screws. Gallons of blood is spilled over the course of this film, but the moments between the violence are what leave you shocked into silence and rigid with terror. We have spoken of descents into madness this month. Well, this movie begins at madness proceeds to dig down to whole other levels of depraved insanity.

All you need to know about the plot can be summed up in two sentences. A pregnant woman is home alone on the eve of her planned delivery. Outside, there is a violent would-be intruder who wants the baby. That is it. Co-directors/co-writers Bustillo and Maury do not waste a lot of energy layering extra detail on top of their bare-bones plot, but do not think of it as thin. Think of it as razor sharp. It is not a marathon but a bloody, barefoot sprint over broken glass.

Alysson Paradis stars as Sarah, the pregnant woman under attack. Vacillating between hysterical, if justified, fear and unbreakable resolve, the character is a throwback to the classic scream queens of the 1980s, but as with everything else in this movie, the filmmakers take an old trope and multiply its intensity by a factor of 10. For a performance that requires her to be locked in one room or another for much of her screen time, Paradis is excellent as the blood-spattered mother-to-be.

Matching her blow for blow in the role of the stalker is Béatrice Dalle. She is sinister, calm, and professional until things begin to get out of hand, at which point she absolutely rages. Dalle sells both aspects of the character with aplomb. She does not speak much and is often in shadows, but as the very essence of evil, she is terrifying.

As discussed earlier this week with Ginger Snaps, this is another rare horror film in which both the protagonist and antagonist are women, but I would never go so far as to call this movie feminist. There is some troubling imagery – allegedly added by a producer against the wishes of the filmmakers – of the fetus inside the womb, which critics rightly point out reduces our main character to a vessel for the baby rather than a person in her own right.

Even beyond that, the simple fact of two women fighting over a baby seems like an ill-advised appropriation of gender stereotypes. At the same time, both of the main characters are strong, intelligent women with fiercely independent streaks – to admittedly different ends – of the kind rarely seen in movies, and it would be wrong to apply too much thematic intention to a film that exists on a purely visceral level. This is not a movie for everyone. It is not a movie for most people, in fact, but it is a damn good movie no less.

Tomorrow, we step back in time with an early master of the genre who gives us bodies and horror but not in the ways we have come to expect.

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