All month, we spotlight horror gems from around the world. This week, 2007 French parenthood parable, “Inside.”
When it comes to horror movies, I’m a huge chicken. I love scary movies. I love the anxiety, the jumps, the terror, and everything else that comes with the experience. Whether or not the movies are actually scary (or good), I’m able to psych myself out pretty thoroughly. That’s especially true if I’m watching a movie by myself. If I’m with people it’s easy enough to keep your emotions in check, but when I’m alone, with my guard totally down, I can get lost in my own head. This generally tapers down with repeat viewings unless I’ve changed in some significant way that has me seeing a movie through a new lens.
Enter “Inside,” a 2007 French film. Of all the ultra-bloody, ultra-intense horror films to come out of France in the last decade, this one was my favorite upon first viewing. The film doesn’t fall apart with its climactic revelation like “High Tension.” It’s not as harrowing as “Martyrs,” but just barely. The first time I watched “Inside” I marveled at the volume of bloodshed and the perversity of the character’s motivations and actions. Multiple times throughout the movie’s 80 minutes I laughed the cathartic laugh that only happens after an insanely intense moment, when the film gives you a moment to steel yourself for whatever’s around the next corner. It was great.
Fast forward five years to the significant change that alters the way I’d see “Inside” upon rewatching it: I’m five-ish months away from becoming a father.
The story is about a pregnant woman, Sarah, spending one last night at home before she’s set to have labor induced the next morning (Christmas morning no less) when a psychopathic woman, La Femme, shows up on her doorstep with the intent of cutting the baby out of Sarah. It’s the logical endpoint for the home invasion genre since I can’t think of a more intimate “home” to invade than a womb.
But “Inside” is much more than just a home invasion. It’s a parable about the fears of parenthood. This was something I picked up on the first time through the movie, but of course parenthood is on my mind a lot more these days, and this time it was all I could think about.
Sarah represents the fear of being helpless, of not knowing what to do. But she’s also stubborn and shrugs off offers of help from others (her mother, her boss). As she’s being terrorized by La Femme, Sarah herself reverts to a childlike state. She locks herself in the bathroom and cries. Mostly she cries because she’s scared and doesn’t know what to do. But she also cries because it’s the only thing she’s capable of doing. She cries futilely for her mother’s help, but it’s too late at that point. Sarah eventually takes charge, facing her fear.
Contrast that with La Femme, who is the complete opposite of Sarah. Instead of being crippled by her fear, it turns her feral. She’s the embodiment of the idea of protecting your family by any means necessary, doing all the things you think you could never do.
So if you go along with the notion that both of these behaviors are possibilities for a person, then we can think of Sarah and La Femme as being two parts of one mind. We don’t know it at the start of the film, but we meet both characters at the same moment in their lives. Both are without the partner they assumed would be there to split the child-rearing responsibilities, both are forced to confront their fears head on. Granted “Inside” is as extreme a movie you’re likely to come across, but it has to be in order to make its point, or at least it has to be that way for me to make my point. There’s no room for subtlety in “Inside.” Sarah is dressed in a white dress and spends a good chunk of the film locked in an all white bathroom, while La Femme wears black and lurks in the shadows.
Needless to say, watching “Inside” again terrified me even more than the first time. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to watch this movie if I was the one that was pregnant. Shudder. And now I can’t get the image of myself with a pregnant belly out of my head. Double shudder.
As a purely visceral experience “Inside” is hard to top. It worked just as well as it did the first time around. The amount of bloodshed is incredible considering there are only a handful of people in the movie. This is the kind of film where a man gets viciously and vigorously stabbed in the balls with scissors and it’s only the fifth or sixth most insane thing that happens. If I knew enough about boxing to make a good analogy, I would. I should try anyway. If the violence is a body shot, imagine taking a steady stream of those for 80 minutes. The psychological aspects are jabs, knocking you off-balance. Then the end revelation is the haymaker that leaves you flattened on the canvas. Does that make sense? The point is that the movie is a knockout (heyyo!).
Getting back to my original point, I really didn’t know what to expect going into this second viewing of “Inside.” There have been plenty of movies that I’ve outgrown over the years, comedies that stopped being funny, dramas that became manipulative treacle, etc. Conversely there were others that I appreciated much more after approaching them with more life experience under my belt. Back in 2008 when I first saw “Inside” my biggest dilemma in life was whether I should buy an HD TV and a PS3 or get them separately over time. I still have that PS3 and HD TV five years later, but those things seem awfully insignificant when I’m struggling to come up with baby names and wondering what kind of father I’m going to be. What I do know unequivocally is that “Inside” is one of the best horror films of the new millennium.