Like THE LOST, which reached video shelves last month, this French film earned enthusiastic accolades on the festival circuit, where it was seen by ecstatic gore hounds eager to heap praise in direct proportion to the gallons of blood spilled on screen. The difference is that, unlike THE LOST, INSIDE (a.k.a., A L’INTERIEUR) is not nearly as boring, and there is an impressive level of craftsmanship on view. It was clearly made by people who did not resort to gore to hide a lack of talent; rather, this is the direction they consciously chose in pursuit of their own peculiar muse. Although that makes INSIDE much better than THE LOST, it also makes it much more disappointing. This is a film that had tremendous potential to be much more than it is, but that potential is squandered in a welter of self-defeating carnage.
After a brief prologue, in which Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is seen driving her car into an auto accident that kills her husband, the story flashes forward to show the young woman alone in her home on Christmas Eve, expecting to give birth the next morning. A nameless woman (Beatrice Dalle, identified only as “La Femme” – i.e., “The Woman”) breaks into Sarah’s home, apparently intent on stealing the unborn baby from the womb. Sarah’s mother shows up, then her lover; eventually some police stop by, along with a perp they have arrested. They are all just lambs to the slaughter, a way to keep refueling a narrative that has nowhere to go without more victims to kill.
To a small extent, the strategy works: the script revels in setting up expectations and then overturning them. “Surely,” you think, “with all these people, someone will be able to do something to help.” Guess again, sucker! The plot plays out like a nonsensical nightmare in which conventions are ignored, expectations are shattered, and numerous questions deliberately go unanswered: How does La Femme break in? Why is she able to effortlessly overpower the police and everyone else who intervenes?
The film offers some suggestive hints, leading you to guess that we are seeing some kind of masochistic guilt-ridden fantasy. Is it possible that everything takes place in Sarah’s mind, that she is torturing herself for having killed her husband in the car crash? As intriguing as this reading is, the film abandons it, forcing us to look for other explanations. There are clues that the intruder may be a ghost: at the very least, it would explain how she is able to get into the locked house; certainly, La Femme’s visual resemblance to Sarah suggests that she is the dark doppelganger of the heroine, a kind of avenging angel sent to punish her.
This latter explanation comes closer to the truth, except that the film ultimately opts to present La Femme as a flesh-and-blood character, not a supernatural force. Some third act revelations clarify her motivations but beg the question of why she is so damn invulnerable. In effect, the story shifts from a guilt fantasy to a revenge fantasy. It is no longer Sarah’s story; it is La Femme’s, and it is told with all the conviction of a drunken braggart in a bar regaling his bored listeners with tall tales of all the ass he has kicked. The gullible may fall for it, but everyone else has to shake their head in disbelief.
INSIDE begins as an utterly convincing, serious thriller with a great premise, but ultimately all of the intriguing hints are drowned in a deluge of graphic gore. It’s like a gusher: once it starts, it never stops. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are absolutely fearless about not holding back; unfortunately, they go so far over the top with their hardcore shock effects, that they leap off the rails: at one point, after being stuck in the brain with a pair of scissors, a victim comes back to life only to be killed again, and we wonder why we’re suddenly watching a zombie movie.
This bloodshed is intense and brilliantly rendered, but you wonder what it’s doing in a movie that seemed to have higher aspirations. The weird thing about all this is that Bustillo and Maury clearly know what they are doing and are totally in control of the effects they want to achieve. There is no doubt that they have talent, and it will be interesting to see what they do next. Reportedly, they have been signed to remake HELLRAISER, and it’s easy to imagine their cinematic style will mesh well with the Clive Barker franchise – even if INSIDE’s attempt to blend a serious thriller with a splatterfest creates a mixture as appetizing as vanilla ice cream covered in steak tartar.
The sad thing is that, before the red geysers start splattering across the screen, the film is as frightening and intense as anything ever put on the screen. La Femme’s first aborted attack on Sarah (holding a knife over her pregnant belly while she sleeps) will have viewers squirming in their seats. By the conclusion, all the interlopers have been dispatched, and the film comes full circle so that La Femme can complete what she started, the tension has totally dissipated. In the end, watching INSIDE is like watching a stuck pig bleed out: long before the final death rattle, you’ve seen the end coming; when it finally arrives, your expectation of it has left you numb and indifferent.
INSIDE (a.k.a., A L’interieur, 2007). Directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury. Written by Alexandre Bustillo. Cast: Beatrice Dalle, Alysson Paradis, Nathalie Roussel, Francois-Regis Marchasson, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, Dominque Frot, Claude Lule, Hyam zeytoun, Tahar Rahim, Emmanuel Guez.