It’s Christmas Eve, Sarah’s alone following her husband’s death four months prior, and there’s riots in the Parisian suburbs after the police murdered two immigrants. Needless to say, Inside packs a lot into its 80 minute runtime. While definitely not for the faint of heart (I’m usually pretty ok with watching extreme films, but there were two scenes here that made me wince), it’s absolutely worth a watch if you can stomach it.
At its core, Inside is a slasher: it takes place in a remote location, offs the people who arrive on scene (with some kind of piercing weapon – be it scissors, a knitting needle or a knife), and stars a woman. A minor divergence from trapped occurs when we consider that the killer is often a mystery in slasher films (at least when it comes to the first in a series), yet in this film we know who the killer is all along.
According to co-director Julien Maury, “The first idea with the story was to change the sex of the killer. In horror movies it’s always a guy chasing after young girls; it’s one of the clichés of the genre. So the first main idea was changing the identity of the bad guy. We wondered what was the motivation for a woman to hunt another woman?” One of the first slashers ever was a woman—Pamela Voorhees. And both she and La Femme are avenging the loss of a child, so here we have motherhood violently interrupted in turn we see violent retribution from the mother.
From La Femme’s (played by Beatrice Dalle) first appearance on screen, she has an utterly terrifying presence. She arrives like an angel of death with her long, black dress, flared sleeves and corset. There’s an obvious juxtaposition between La Femme’s dress and Sarah’s skimpier, white nightgown.
White vs. black generally brings good vs. evil or some other binary of opposites to mind, but what’s most interesting to me is that Sarah’s dress is quickly covered with blood, making it very red. Not only that, but after using a shard of glass as a weapon, her hands become are bloodied very soon after the initial brief attack. An occurrence reminiscent of the metaphorical blood on her hands when she first (unknowingly) encountered La Femme during the car accident at the beginning of the film. Though it is unclear to the audience who was at fault for the accident, La Femme blames Sarah. All this blood talk does make me think: to be fair, the opening shot was an in-utero baby dying—know no one is making it to the end with clean hands.
Honestly, the CGI baby cut-away shots are irritating, because they just look so bad—I really don’t know why they’ve added them in. I have no doubt that we wouldn’t have forgotten that Sarah is pregnant. Since so many of the shots are almost like the baby’s reactions to the violence that we’re seeing, they could’ve been really affective, but at this point they just look like bad CGI and completely take me out of the scene, which is a bummer. But I have heard that these added to the endurance test that is Inside for some audiences, so maybe that’s just me.
Something I don’t usually write much about is the sound design and/or the scores of film. Inside’s go absolutely perfectly with the visual direction of the film. The score is so distressing—angular and crunchy—it never quite does what you expect it to. Though the movie doesn’t have many jump scares, the sound design alone will make you tense up. At times there’s a low feedback and calmness that reminds me of the Fripp/Eno album Evening Star, but at the moments of attack, a stark and jarring crackling boom hits the speakers. The exact sound reminds me of abruptly unplugging a guitar or bass from an amplifier. This is followed by a crunchy distorted, almost industrial, beat. The ringing sound used during tense moments of escalation also makes it hard for audiences not to feel the fear and hopelessness Sarah experiences in those moments. (As I’m writing this, I have the movie playing in another tab just so I can listen to the score again, since “Inside Movie Soundtrack” doesn’t bring up anything resembling this movie—thanks, Bo Burnham.)
I did a little research into the political background of the film, and unless there’s something I’m missing, it seems this movie oddly anticipated a major event. The Villiers-le-Bel riots of 2007 took place after two immigrant teenagers collided with a police vehicle and died in late November of that year. Inside was released in June, but the story in the film is very similar: two immigrants were ‘accidentally’ killed and riots followed. It’s been clear for a long time that police killings in minority communities are disturbingly routine, but the specificity of the overlapping details just surprised me.
In the book Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity, author Alexandra West makes clear that riots and protests are fairly common occurrences in France, especially during the latter half of the 20th century. Using anti-police protests as the backdrop for this film both contextualizes the films place in reality and underlines the horror of everyday life (police brutality and murder). Whether consciously or not, the film also draws a comparison between the treatment of communities by police. Sarah, a white French woman, feels safe and protected when dealing with them, calling on them for help when she first encounters La Femme and when they return as they’d promised, whereas minority communities protest against the continued killings of their youths. The police, however, prove useless in their ability to keep Sarah safe. They’re quickly disposed of by La Femme, and one of them eventually blindly attack Sarah himself.
I’m inclined to draw a comparison between Sarah’s house (or the city of Paris more broadly) and Sarah’s womb. Just as the riots are a possible threat to the feelings of safety and security that most citizens expect (given what little dialogue we are exposed to on the subject), so too are the attacks on Sarah’s body a threat to the presumed comfort and safety of the child. The latter being one of the things that makes this movie so hard to watch: attacking a pregnant woman is so taboo and inhuman, it’s hard to imagine and harder to see.
Sarah generally doesn’t seem all that interested in being a mother. She’s never depicted as particularly excited about it, and she doesn’t want to talk about it with anyone who engages her. It’s gives the impression that everything about the prospect of motherhood reminds her of her late husband. Whereas La Femme clearly would do anything she can to be a mother and to protect her child.
I’m wondering about the choice to set this movie at Christmas. It’s clear that Sarah has been distancing herself from friends and family, as she’s processing the trauma of having recently lost her husband . So, the decision to have Sarah spend Christmas Eve alone, despite having a mother and a boyfriend, definitely underlines this isolation she’s either self-imposing or embracing. But that it’s Christmas must have some other connotation, especially considering the last shot of the film: La Femme cradling the stolen newborn baby on Christmas morning. Here we have another contrast. While Christmas is typically a celebration of birth, Sarah’s is definitely not a cause for celebration. Maybe that’s all there is to it, and the visual of a now deformed La Femme rocking back and forth with a stolen, crying baby being so thoroughly creepy.
It’s possible that the filmmakers were trying to do a lot more than the runtime and script than they should have, without fully fleshing out the ideas or giving them the screen time necessary to actualize them. Maybe my reading is much more generous than the film deserves.
Even without considering these political implications, I can’t deny that Inside depicts abject brutality extremely well. From the traumatic psychological experiences to the tangible violence, the film guarantees audiences will recoil in disgust. I’ve watched a handful of extreme films, and this was one of the first to push me to look away. I had to tell myself, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie,” before I was able to watch the birth. Considering the title of the film, I can’t think of a better fit. In addition to the layering of external threats—the riots, La Femme’s attacks—the images in this film will relentlessly live inside your head, tormenting your mind’s eye for days.