by Jason Coffman
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Since the release of Alexandre Aja’s High Tension in 2003, it seems as though French filmmakers have been intent on beating the Great American Horror Film at its own game. While forerunners like Trouble Every Day and In My Skin appropriated horror themes and graphic imagery while maintaining an academic detachment from the genre, the films that followed have been unapologetic horror pictures. Alexandre Bustillo and Julian Maury’s brutal, uncompromising Inside may well be the ultimate expression of this new wave of French horror.
Sarah (Alysson Paradis) decides to spend Christmas Eve, the night before she is to be induced into labor, alone with her thoughts and her unborn child. Four months have passed since Sarah and her husband were involved in a car accident that killed him and left her alone. Sarah is disturbed by a Woman (Beatrice Dalle) at the door who seems to know all about her life and before long, the Woman is inside the house and determined to take Sarah’s baby by whatever means necessary—including quickly dispatching anyone who happens to interfere.
The film takes this simple, familiar plot and gives it a decidedly different spin. It is merciless, with the directors staging scene after scene of unbearable tension. Each time they provide a release, the catharsis is more horrific and violent than the last. It’s a difficult film to watch, and exhausting. But there’s clearly more going on here than just mindless gore for its own sake—it’s beautifully shot and meticulously designed on every level. The minimal set, perfect lighting and cinematography, unsettling sound design and the excellent performances by the two leads take the film to a level of artistry virtually unheard of in the horror genre, French or otherwise. The film ends on a profoundly haunting and disturbing image that is also deeply moving.
That said, however, there should be no mistake: this is one of the most gruesome and brutal horror films ever made. Not since Nacho Cerda’s infamous Aftermath have I been in a theater with an audience so terrified. It’s that intense. Near the end of the film, just when it seems like Bustillo’s script is about to explain too much, there is a series of events that forces the audience to reconsider everything that has come before. Unlike the clumsy, film-ruining twist in High Tension, this one actually compels multiple viewings. What is perhaps even more amazing is that the film truly deserves them. It’s concrete proof that there is art to be found in the most horrific places.
Inside is being released on DVD by Dimension Extreme on April 15th. Extras include a 50-minute “behind the scenes” featurette and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
Jason Coffman is a film critic in Chicago..
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