Dirs: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo. Fr. 2007. 80mins.
Imagine a graphic, feature-length riff on that line in Macbeth about Macduff being 'from his mother's womb untimely ripped' and you have the kernel of Inside, a vicious gore-fest, which seems designed to prove that Europeans too can up the horror stakes too in the vein of Saw or Hostel.
As a pure genre exercise, Inside, directed by first-timers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, will generate plenty of word-of-mouth and Internet fanbase buzz, if only for how the no-holds barred variation on the frenzied attacker theme raises the bar for Euro horror.
In France the film opened on 13 June, where the Dalle factor will cast the net outside the core horror fanbase to pull in a few ironic, trash-loving cineastes (a target already hinted at by the film's berth at Critics' Week in Cannes).
Given the extremity of the violence, censorship may be a problem in some territories. But the film's combination of French setting and cheesy American dialogue is so jarringly fake, especially in the early part, that it is also likely to provoke gaping incredulity from Anglophone audiences, who will only be hooked back in when the bloodletting starts and the dodgy accents become secondary. Presumably The Weinstein Co, which picked up all rights to English-speaking territories at Berlin's EFM, has the less fussy, genre-friendly DVD market firmly in mind.
It's Christmas Eve, and heavily pregnant photographer Sarah (Paradis) is spending her last night at home before going into hospital to have labour induced. Sarah's a recent widow: her husband died in a car crash from which mother and unborn child somehow emerged intact.
As in a porn movie, this threadbare premise serves only to fast-forward us into the action, which begins when a mysterious woman (Dalle) tries to break into Sarah's curiously suburban home (she strikes us as more of a bohemian apartment dweller). She calls the police, but they have other worries, as ethnic riots are raging in the banlieus.
The film's merit, for horror fans, will be in the way it takes the pregnant woman's worst nightmare - being given a Caesarean by a scissor-wielding Beatrice Dalle - and storyboards it with brutal efficiency, racking up the tension from one bloody set-piece to the next.
Its drawback for the rest of us is the way it does pretty much nothing else - and watching a suburban French interior being turned into the home decor version of a Jackson Pollock painting eventually palls despite the effectiveness of the fright factor.
If leaving its viewers feeling drained and pummelled is the mark of a good horror movie, then Inside scores top marks; but the film's lack of psychological depth is, in the end, equally tiring for many audiences. In this it falls well short of Neil Marshall's The Descent, another recent European horror outing with a female -dominant cast.
But at least the film doesn't feel the need to justify the violence by making its victims morally corrupt in the style of most US examples of the genre. And the fact that Inside ends as a battle between two women - while a series of useless men serve only to increase the body count - is a refreshing twist on the usual sexist rape-and-torture horror model (though it could just as easily be read as a PC escape clause in what is still a nasty, brutish and long slasher film).
Dalle has done gap-toothed obsession and monstrosity before - notably in Claire Denis's odd horror experiment Trouble Every Day - and she wisely plays the crazed attacker straight with a relentless, mechanistic single aim but without mannerisms.
Alysson Paradis is required to morph from trembling bourgeois fright into a determined, savage animal fighting for its life, and does so fairly effectively.
Outside of the gore, special effects mostly consist of some amniotic views of the foetus in the womb, while the editing racks up the fright-factor (though not when it goes all Godardian in a series of jagged jump-cuts).
Francois-Eude Chanfrault's soundtrack builds from sustained horror chords to a metal-rock thrash in the climactic fight.
La Fabrique de Films
La Fabrique De Films