After surviving a car accident that kills her husband, a grieving and heavily pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) spends Christmas Eve alone in her house, located in a French suburb rife with rioting youths. When a mysterious woman (Beatrice Dalle) arrives on her doorstep demanding she be let in, it sparks off a long night of terror for Sarah.
Inside, written by Alexandre Bustillo and directed by Bustillo and Julien Maury, is a 2007 French home invasion thriller – although it borders heavily on the horror genre thanks to some of the most graphic violence imaginable. It stands as one of the most iconic and pivotal works in what is referred to as ‘the New French Extremity’, a French film movement of recent decades that is typified by extreme violence – both physical and sexualised – and dehumanised horror. In contrast to other extreme forms, such as the USA’s so-called ‘torture porn’ genre, the New French Extremity seems mostly situated among avant-garde and partially art-house filmmakers including Catherine Breillat, François Ozon, Gaspar Noé, and others.
‘Extreme’ certainly captures Inside, which combines arthouse pretension with brutal horrors, and which spends a tightly edited 82 minutes assaulting its audience’s senses in a firmly relentless fashion. Pretty much every element of the film – whether the violence, the gore, the cinematography, sound design, score, or editing – has been deliberately styled to generate paranoia, tension, or disgust. At the same time directors Bustillo and Maury somehow manage to avoid stereotypical techniques. Sudden revelations or shock moments are often performed without the assistance of scary sounds or musical cues, or even editing techniques. It is an often unpalatable ride for audiences, but there is little denying it has been superbly put together by a hugely talented crew.
Alysson Paradis is sensational as Sarah, who begins the film exhausted, fragile, and scarred from her car accident. Things only get harder for her from there. There is a real challenge for an actor to perform what are effectively different shades of panic, dread, and terror, but she achieves the feat brilliantly. Sarah’s extreme situation draws out a powerful and fierce underlying character – one who fights to survive and protect her baby at any and all costs.
Sarah must protect her baby, because her nameless assailant, played by Betty Blue‘s Beatrice Dalle, has arrived on her doorstep to take her baby. That the baby is unborn is not the intruder’s concern – as she has armed herself with a large pair of dress-making scissors. This visceral and physically upsetting goal is what pushes Inside into extreme cinema. In horror films, pregnant women – like children – are essentially immune to violence. The concept of assaulting or murdering such a woman is too great a crime for an audience to find palatable. Inside‘s creators dive headlong into that taboo, and when combined with the already present and brutal violence, it pushes the border of what is broadly acceptable on screen. It is excellent at what it is trying to do, certainly, but it is attempting to repel and horrify the viewer. It is understandable that many potential viewers are happier to avoid the challenge.
For her part Dalle makes a superb antagonist: not just unexplained for most of the film, but also wholly inexplicable. Her jumps from eerie calm to furious rage feel unstable – and are emphasised wonderfully by some jagged editing – and her unpredictable behaviour makes her particularly frightening. The supporting cast all deliver solid performances, but in all honesty few of them have a chance to make an impact; this is, all in all, a terrific and suspenseful two-hander.
Whenever I view and like a piece of extreme cinema, I am inevitably asked how and why I could possibly enjoy such a violent work. In truth there is an honesty to such films. Violent acts occur in feature films all of the time, but when depicted in these gory, relentless fashions there is an innate honesty in portraying exactly how destructive violence can be. When violence is portrayed at its full extent, it drags along and exaggerates the suspense, the terror, even the revulsion – all experienced in a safe, at-home environment where no one is at risk. Extreme cinema generates catharsis. Inside does an outstanding job of this, but it is strong stuff: an espresso to general cinema’s flat white. This is an excellent film – but it is also a difficult, gory, pit-of-your-stomach horrible film. Caveat emptor, and watch according to what you know you can enjoy – or endure.