Thursday, April 11, 2013
In about the last ten years, there has been a concerted movement in horror movies to push the envelope and go extreme. It's the same basic impulse that drove the splatterpunks in 1980s horror fiction: a desire to go further in terms of graphic content and to create horror that really is horrifying. Seminal splatterpunks John Skipp & Craig Spector wrote perhaps the most stirring defence of this idea in the introduction to their 1989 zombie anthology Book of the Dead: "On Going Too Far, or Flesh Eating Zombies: New Hope for the Future." It's almost a manifesto for extreme horror and if you're into this sort of thing, I'd heartily recommend finding a copy and reading it. (The book itself is also very good.)
In theory I am behind this practice. I think that there is no such thing as going too far in horror. Anything sacred, taboo or just plain offensive should be rudely pushed past. Horror should revel in the things that society deems unexceptable. There is plenty of room for horror to be quiet and subtle, as horror is a beast with many heads, but at least one of those heads has been flayed alive and is drooling and spitting acid, and that's as it should be.
But there are two basic problems with the horror of extremes. One of these is, quite simply, that most of what is tagged as extreme horror is nowhere near extreme enough. Movies like Hostel and Saw have reputations for extreme content that is not evident upon watching them. These movies are simply disappointing. The other, and more pervasive problem is that a lot of extreme horror doesn't have anything on its mind except for being as extreme as the imaginations of the filmmakers can make it. This usually leads to them being silly.
Unfortunately, Inside (aka À l'intérieur) falls very much on the silly side of the fence. It's a shame because its concept has potential. It starts with a (very CGI-looking) baby inside a womb as a woman's voice over says, "My child. My baby. Finally inside me. No one will take him from me. No one can hurt him now. No one." Then there is an impact, and we see that two cars have collided. Sarah (Alysson Paradis), who isheavily pregnant, sits behind the driver's wheel of one car, covered in blood, with her dead husband next to her. We go from there to a hospital exam some time later, which establishes that her unborn daughter is doing just fine, that it is Christmas Eve, and that if she doesn't give birth in the next 24 hours they will induce pregnancy. Sarah, who understandably depressed, then rejects an offer from her mother to have dinner together, arranges for her boss to pick her up and take her to the hospital the next morning, and goes home to be alone.
That night, a mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) arrives at Sarah's home demanding to be let in, revealing that she knows Sarah's husband is dead. The police come and find no evidence of the woman, but promise to keep an eye on her. But the woman has already managed to get into the house unseen...
The entire setup for this movie is terrific. It does a great job of establishing Sarah's character and then isolating her. The initial appearances of Dalle are deeply unsettling; she is first glimpsed lighting a cigarette outside of the back window, and moves silently through the house like a wraith. Her motivation is clear, and horribly perverse; she wants Sarah's daughter to replace the unborn son she lost in the car accident, which she clearly blames on Sarah. When she brings out a large pair of scissors and starts caressing a sleeping Sarah's belly, we know that she is not going to wait for a natural childbirth.
Initial arrivals of intruders into the situation are handled very well, specifically the boss and the mother, but shortly afterwards the movie starts to seriously go off the rails as more and more people start arriving at the house, and are dispatched purely because of their own stupidity. Any attempt at developing the situation between Sarah and the woman are abandoned in favour of a series of contrived killings which quickly become laughable. There is a brief moment towards the end which suggests that something supernatural might have been going on, but it is too vague and minor to amount to anything and certainly does not explain or excuse the silliness.
Inside proves that a horror movie can feature an intriguing setup and be technically excellent, have very good performances (Béatrice Dalle is particularly good) and showcase effective shock sequences and very well-done graphic gore, and still fail if the script is poor. As well as featuring characters who die by the "rule of dumb," it in no way capitalises on its premise, or does anything thematically interesting with it. I was not at all surprised to find out after watching it that in the original script Dalle's character was a man and it was a more standard "woman menaced by intruder" story. The writer and directors just wanted to shock the audience. I admit that I was a little shocked and disturbed by how far it was willing to go, but by the time it went there it had long since stopped being scary or suspenseful and had made clear that it wasn't giving me anything to really think about, and it was a dull shock and a resigned disturb.
When we have movies like Martyrs, which I will discuss soon, we don't need Inside. I give this one a failing grade for not even trying hard enough. Disturbing images alone do not make an effective horror movie, and even the most disturbing images here were ultimately nothing new.