Is Inside the most extreme horror film ever made?
Opening with a car crash that kills Sarah (Alysson Paradis)’s husband and almost kills her unborn child, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s brutal 2007 home invasion film Inside starts as it means to go on. Part of the New French Extremity movement, which includes the greatly disturbing Martyrs and the truly awful Switchblade Romance, Inside may stake a real claim as being the goriest, most disturbing horror film ever released.
Four months after the fatal car accident, the bitter, reclusive Sarah is preparing to have her baby delivered on Christmas Day. Settling in on Christmas Eve night, she is disturbed by an incessant knocking at the door. An unknown woman (Beatrice Dalle) claims to have broken down outside, and urgently needs to use the telephone (like another New French Extremity film Frontier(s), Inside takes place during the Parisian riots, which cleverly explains a few problematic plot developments). Sarah lies to the woman, claiming her husband is trying to sleep and must not be disturbed. The mysterious woman tells Sarah she knows her husband is dead and she’s all alone. With that chilling line, Sarah’s evening turns into a living nightmare.
One thing I found really refreshing about Inside is how logical most of its plot points are. Sarah doesn’t walk out into the dark to investigate, or run all around the house. When the woman smashes Sarah’s window, she instantly calls the police (who logically search around the house and stay on standby). When Sarah later wakes up to find the woman standing over her with a pair of scissors, she fights her off and spends much of the film locked in the bathroom. Sarah is a great leading character because she’s as vulnerable as you’d expect from a pregnant, lonely woman, yet still resourceful enough to not be incredibly infuriating.
From the moment the mysterious woman attempts to cut Sarah’s stomach with a pair of scissors, Inside begins its campaign of quite incredible violence (it isn’t called New French Extremity for nothing). Throats are slashed, faces are (repeatedly) stabbed, hands are impaled, heads are blown off. Even the cat isn’t safe. It’s a shame that Bustillo and Maury didn’t have a larger budget, as there are several big shots that just don’t work, not least the aforementioned blown off head, which is so unconvincing it makes the end of The Evil Dead look pretty true to life.
Honestly, the film doesn’t need the repeated shots of spraying blood and knifes sticking out of limbs; Inside is at its best in its early stages when it’s much more subtle. One of the better moments of the film involves the woman simply standing behind Sarah as she makes a phonecall. Barely visible in the dark, the woman flickers like a candle, wandering around the house, showing just how easy it is for her to avoid detection. The effect is horribly unnerving, easily the creepiest moment in the film, but the two directors abandon anything remotely similar in the second half. I understand that Bustillo and Maury probably wanted to use Inside to showcase their gory, Raimi-esque side, but a lighter touch would have gone a long way.
Still, if audiences seek out Inside to challenge their gag reflex (in the same way The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film have become best known as films you watch as a dare), they are unlikely to be disappointed. There are possibly films as gory as Inside, but very few take place in such a squirm-inducingly realistic setting. The fear of losing a baby is a very real one; the idea of a mad woman trying to forcibly take it from you is almost ingenious in how unpleasant it is, and the film takes the idea to its full potential. For most of the film, I was impressed with how real its villain felt. Beatrice Dalle portrays the woman as totally mad and out of reality, yet she acts exactly how you imagine an insane person would if they tried to be a horror villain. There’s no supernatural teleportation or total immortality; she gets scarred, she gets beaten, she has to take care of Sarah’s family members and the returning police officers in a down-and-dirty fashion. For most of the film, anyway.
It’s fair to say Inside goes insane towards the end. Most disappointingly, the mystery woman does start to become the ridiculous villain she always had the potential to be. Sarah becomes the indestructible heroine, as well, as both survive a seemingly never ending wave of brutality. There’s a reappearance of a minor character which feels jarring, and only serves to extend the meagre 75 minute runtime (even at just over an hour, it feels padded out).
I’m unsure of how I feel about Inside‘s final minutes. On the one hand, the film’s final shot is eerily beautiful in the most ugly way possible. However, after sitting through suffering and cruelty and horrible violence for over an hour, the film’s truly disgusting, and possibly shameful, climax just feels wrong. It’s the type of scene an American remake would rewrite, and for possibly good reason. Despite a solid twist which does actually improve the film greatly, it’s a real sour note to end on, and possibly too unpleasant for even the most extreme viewer.
Is Inside the most extreme horror film ever made? It’s certainly up there. While not quite as morally reprehensible as A Serbian Film, or as skin crawling as Martyrs, Inside is more relatable in its horrors. The central premise of somebody literally trying to take a baby from another person is disturbing in a way very few horror films have ever been, and directors Bustillo and Maury really take the premise as far as it can go, in really unpleasant fashion. The acting is fine from all the cast, and the chills at the beginning are particularly effective, but for better or worse, Inside will be remembered for its truly staggering levels of gore, and its nightmarish final moments.
By Harry Ford