This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. (Especially this one!) Today’s film is perhaps the one that came with the most notoriety attached to it: Inside (2007), directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Among the Living). The extreme French horror film, titled A l’intérieur in its native tongue, was demanded by friend, apparent sadist, and Kids Can Press Digital Project Manager, Brendan Ouellette. It’s available to stream on the Shudder horror service, but make sure you have a strong stomach and are not expecting a child.
Trigger warnings: Miscarriage, anything pregnancy-related, cat violence.
Inside begins, as most people’s stories do, inside a uterus. We see a fetus in its amniotic fluid and hear a woman’s voice announce, “No one will take him from me.” Then there’s a screech of tires and the soon-to-be-baby bangs its head against the camera. We then see what happened: two compact cars have had a head-on collision in the rain. We see the occupants of one vehicle, a pregnant woman whose face drips blood and gore, and a man, slumped over and looking just as bad. The woman awakes and calls her husband, Matthieu (Jean-Baptiste Tabourin), but he doesn’t answer. The woman cradles her belly and the opening credits begin. (Opening credits, I’ll note, that are gorier than most of the other films have been in their entirety.)
Four months later, photojournalist Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is having her final ultrasound appointment. The baby is doing just fine (car accident aside) and the doctor goes over the plan to have her admitted to the hospital tomorrow morning – Christmas Day – when they’ll induce labour. “Enjoy your last night of peace and quiet,” he jokes, which is what we in the biz call dramatic irony. In the waiting area, a grizzled nurse sits beside Sarah and lights a cigarette (!), advising Sarah that the first kid is the worst one. The nurse says her first child put her through so much pain, but was stillborn. That’s when the doctor reminds her she can’t smoke in a hospital.
Sarah’s mother, Louise (Nathalie Roussel) picks her up from the waiting room. On the way to her car, Louise suggests meeting up for Christmas dinner, but Sarah wants to be left alone. Later, in a park, Sarah watches a young couple with their toddler and winces in disappointment. She takes some photos of the couple and their baby. Her editor, Jean-Pierre (François-Régis Marchasson), sits beside her on the park bench. He’s interrupted by a phone call – riots in the Paris suburbs mean the paper is all-hands-on-deck – but soon offers to drive Sarah back to her house. Sarah hands Jean-Pierre the keys; he’ll be responsible for picking her up and driving her to the hospital in the morning. When he asks Sarah’s Christmas Eve plans, Sarah says she wants to spend some time alone. “You won’t say that next year, I guarantee,” he says.
Sarah sits in her house and works on her knitting. Her mother calls again to try to invite herself over, but Sarah forbids a visit. She then goes to her dark room and broods over photographs of her and her dead husband, Matthieu. But, Patrick-Swayze-style, Matthieu appears in her fantasy, wrapping his strong arms around her and cradling their unborn child. This dream is ended by the rude interruption of a grim memory: Matthieu’s head colliding with the windshield. Sarah returns to her rocking chair and drifts off to sleep.
She wakes when her black cat begins to meow. Suddenly, Sarah can’t breathe. She begins to hyperventilate, then pukes up about a gallon of a milk-like substance. She rolls over on her back; her cat begins to hiss wildly. Then Sarah’s baby is born violently through her open mouth. (Yikes!) But – it’s just a nightmare. Sarah awakes relieved, but that relief won’t last long. Because a ring a door ruins everything.
Though Sarah can’t make out the woman’s face, there’s a silhouette at the door asking for help. Her car broke down and her cell phone’s battery died; she needs to call for assistance. Sarah, very non-Wenceslas-like, refuses: she lies that her husband is sleeping and she can’t let her in. The woman on the other side of the door then says, “Your husband’s not sleeping. He’s dead, Sarah.” Somehow this woman knows her! The woman, who we’ll call the (spoiler alert) Intruder (Béatrice Dalle) asks Sarah to let her in and she’ll reveal how she knows her. But Sarah’s not having it.
She checks all the doors and entry points into the house to make sure they’re locked. But when she goes to her sliding glass door, the woman is standing outside, waiting. Sarah calls the police. The woman calmly lights a cigarette, then punches the window, causing it to spider-web out. Sarah takes her camera and shoots a bunch of photos of the strange woman, and she soon disappears. Immediately, Sarah goes to her dark room to develop the photos. The ones taken at the door are too dark and grainy for her to get a good look at her face, but when she studies the photos she took earlier in the park, she sees the woman was watching her from afar! Spooky!
The police ring her doorbell and Sarah lets two of the officers inside, while a third checks the perimeter of her house. The policewoman notes that the intruder could have known her name just by looking at her letterbox, but she’s not sure how she could know about her dead husband. The police look at the photos but also have a hard time identifying anyone. The cop who was outdoors says there’s no sign of anyone, but it’s certainly quiet in her neighbourhood on Christmas Eve. The police make sure the doors are secure and then depart, promising to check in on her later in the evening. They have to get back to the suburbs: with the riots, the Paris police are busier than usual.
Sarah falls back to sleep on the couch, but is soon awakened by her cat. (The joys of cat ownership.) We viewers see, though Sarah does not, the intruder has somehow entered the house and looms in the darkened doorway behind her. Sarah calls Jean-Pierre and leaves a message on his answering machine: that she has some photos that worry her, and is wondering if he can enhance them. She then heads upstairs and goes to sleep, dreaming of the fetus inside her. Once she’s asleep, we see the intruder has entered. She’s dressed all in black, complete with leather gloves, a black corset, and a black dress with wizard sleeves. She departs, investigates Sarah’s closet, inhales deeply of her wedding dress, then returns to the washroom, where much of our story will take place.
The intruder, we see, is wielding a very large pair of scissors, and goes to the medicine cabinet to find some rubbing alcohol. She returns to the bed and uncovers Sarah’s baby bump. The intruder dips the scissors into the alcohol and stabs into Sarah’s belly button. From inside the uterus, we see the baby in distress. Sarah awakes with a start and the woman slashes her face with the scissor blade. Sarah reacts by smashing a bedside lamp against her head and rushing to the washroom. The scissors whizz by her head on the way and embed in the bedroom door, but Sarah locks herself in with the toilet. The intruder pounds frantically on the locked door.
In the brightly lit bathroom, Sarah looks at herself in the mirror to assess the damage: her face has a nasty diagonal cut across her mouth and cheek and she’s bleeding heavily. At that moment, her water breaks. When Sarah checks her belly, she sees her navel is weeping blood. As Sarah begins to weep herself, the intruder retreats to the kitchen and makes a makeshift ice pack for her throbbing skull. That’s when she hears keys jingle at the door. Jean-Pierre has arrived to check on Sarah and, making a few assumptions, decides this intruder must be Sarah’s mother (even though she must be eight years older than Sarah, max). Sarah’s fake mother says Sarah went to bed about an hour ago, but, sadistically, asks Jean-Pierre to stick around for a drink.
Somehow, the intruder convinces Jean-Pierre she’s still Sarah’s mom for the next several minutes. He only begins to suspect something’s up when he finds the grainy photo of the “mother” on the couch, and wonders if this is one of the photos Sarah called about. The broken sliding glass door doesn’t allay his suspicions. But the real clincher is when Louise barges in and asks to see her daughter. Jean-Pierre realizes this gap-toothed woman in black is not Sarah’s mom; she’s someone else entirely.
Louise marches up the stairs to the bathroom and Sarah – totally unaware of the drama that’s been unfolding downstairs – lies in wait with a knitting needle. When her mother comes to the washroom room, Sarah strikes, stabbing her mother through her throat. The puncture wound sprays blood all over the walls and Sarah screams at her mistake: “Mommy!” Jean-Pierre heads upstairs and stumbles across the unfolding horror show. He stops midway and the intruder stabs him with the scissors in the back of his knee. He rolls over and the intruder stabs him again in the crotch and rotates the scissors like she’s loosening a bolt. The woman stabs Jean-Pierre a couple times in the face for good measure and then slashes his throat. It’s a Grand Guignol sequence that gets the adrenaline pumping.
Sarah has wisely locked herself in the washroom again. The intruder, meanwhile, drags Jean-Pierre’s body down the stairs and into the living room. He begins to stir, so the intruder smothers him with a pillow then stabs the scissors through the cushion into his face, twists it around a little. Upstairs, Sarah has started to creep out of the bathroom, but the woman spots her and gives chase. Sarah hops back into the washroom, but the intruder grabs her by the hair and pulls. (The unborn baby doesn’t like any of this.) In the struggle, Sarah manages to stab the woman in her wrist with a metal hair barrette, which she breaks off in her arm. The intruder screams and retreats. Sarah has drawn blood.
While Sarah demands to know who the intruder is, on the other side of the door the woman begins to get twitchy and has to smoke a cigarette to calm down. She pets the traitorous cat for a bit, then crushes its head and throws the cat corpse away. As Sarah begins to feel painful contractions, she hobbles over the sink to cool herself down with water. The intruder digs a hole into the wooden door with the scissors so the two can now see each other. Sarah smashes the (quite large) washroom mirror and arms herself with a large shard. “Why me?” Sarah pleads. “I want one,” the intruder answers. She’s here to take the baby.
From outside, a police siren can be heard. We see three police officers have arrived in a cruiser, and accompanying them is a man they’ve arrested, Abdel (Aymen Saïdi). In what is clearly a case of racial profiling, Abdel has been arrested for fitting the description – Middle-Eastern young man – of some of the rioters. While the driver of the police cruiser (Nicolas Duvauchelle) calls his lover to explain his lateness, the other two cops (Emmanuel Lanzi and Ludic Berthillot) go to check on Sarah. The intruder barricades the washroom door with a heavy dresser to trap Sarah, then goes downstairs – sliding a knitting needle into her sleeve first – to see her guests from Parisian law enforcement.
While the intruder is occupied, Sarah uses the mirror shard to painfully dig a larger hole into the door. The police officers, being different from the ones who visited earlier, mistake the intruder for Sarah, and are pleased to find out everything’s great. When they inquire about the banging from upstairs, the intruder explains it away as an old dishwasher. Sarah manages to bore a hole in the door large enough to fit her arm, and reaches out to reach the knob. But the intruder has already returned to the washroom. She takes Sarah’s hand and gruesomely pins it to the wall with her scissors.
The doorbell rings again: the police are back, as they’ve remembered the woman in the house is supposed to be pregnant. The one cop, hearing muffled cries, heads upstairs and tells the other cop to watch the intruder like a hawk. When the police officer sees the charnel house that’s developed around the washroom, he screams to his partner to arrest the woman, then moves the dresser and helps Sarah remove the scissors from her palm.
Of course, the intruder has a hidden knitting needle and she’s definitely going to use it. She stabs her arresting officer right in the eye, then again in his neck. (That’s resisting arrest, on top of her other offences.) Just as the other police officer opens the washroom door to rescue Sarah, his face is blown apart. The intruder takes the other cop’s gun and blows his brains, very literally, out. Sarah scurries into the corner with her mirror shard.
The police officer outside is no dummy. He takes a non-lethal riot gun and binds Abdel to him via handcuffs. (Yet, he does not radio for backup – a decision he may regret later.) Abdel protests police brutality, but the cop drags him into the house of horror where they find gruesomely murdered people. Upstairs, they discover Sarah and try to help her, but Sarah can’t stop confessing, “I killed my mother.” The power is cut. The cop then arms both Sarah and Abdel while he attempts to bandage the cuts on Sarah’s hands. It’s a tense scene, framed so that you expect the intruder to leap into the room at any moment. (She even walks past at one point, unbeknownst to them.)
The officer instructs Sarah to wait in her bedroom. He and his prisoner are heading to the circuit breaker to turn the lights back on. The two of them use a flashlight to work on the power box while Sarah rests on her bed, absolutely drenched in blood (only some of which is her own). It’s so dark that the police officer doesn’t notice when the intruder picks up the riot gun, which they set aside to work on the breaker, and shoots him point blank in the face with the rubber bullets. He drops to the floor and Abdel screams to warn Sarah that the intruder is still there. However, Sarah has seemingly fallen asleep. (How can she sleep at a time like this?!) The woman restrains Abdel and stabs the scissors directly into his forehead. Stunned and bleeding profusely, he slowly removes the scissors from his head and stabs at the intruder in a daze, but then falls forward, dead. The intruder lights another cigarette and smiles.
As morning light begins to break, the intruder finds Sarah asleep in bed and, so, slowly mounts her, kissing her belly, rubbing against her body, and kissing her face.That’s when Sarah bites the woman’s lower lip, removing part of it with her teeth, and spitting the bloody mess onto the floor. Sarah staggers downstairs as the intruder recoils in pain. Sarah retrieves her knitting needle and heads back to finish the job, but the intruder gets the drop on her. She kicks Sarah several times in the face, then drags her into the kitchen.
Sarah gets to her feet and holds the knitting needle to her belly: she threatens the one thing the intruder wants. No slouch herself, the intruder smacks Sarah across the face with a toaster, putting her down for the count. As Sarah writhes on the floor, the intruder lights yet another cigarette, so Sarah sprays her with some Pam and brutally sets her face on fire. (Cigarettes are hazardous to your health.) The intruder runs away screaming, and Sarah, gasping for air, gives herself a homemade tracheotomy, puncturing her windpipe with the knitting needle. The move helps her breathe better, but now her neck is spurting blood everywhere. She remedies the situation with some duct tape (Red Green would be proud), then makes some sort of impromptu spear using a glass shard and table leg and heads off in search for the intruder.
Sarah snaps photos with her camera to draw the intruder out of hiding, but also manages to highlight the gruesome carnage of the evening (so far). She finds her attacker crouched in the closet, her face half-melted off. “You can kill me again, Sarah,” she gasps. “You already did once.” That’s when Sarah realizes who the woman is: she was the other driver in the accident that killed her husband. And she was pregnant, too. Only she lost her unborn child in the accident. Sarah is stunned: “They told me there were no survivors.”
The lights return, and it appears the third policeman is back on his feet and operating the breaker. When he turns to reveal his face, his forehead is badly wounded and his eyes seem ruined. Worse, he seems confused as to who is who, and he attacks Sarah with his nightstick, wailing on her pregnant belly. Sarah begins to eject blood from between her legs, but she’s rescued from this assault by an unlikely saviour: the intruder. She’s on her feet again and stabs the cop mercilessly with the makeshift spear until he drops.
In the melee, Sarah has fled and begins to crawl crab-wise up the stairs. The baby is coming soon. Not long now. The intruder follows her. Sarah panics; she thinks the baby is stuck. The intruder tries to calm and reassure her, but that’s hard to do when half your face is molten slag and you’re carrying a giant pair of shears. The burned woman in black begins to cut away Sarah’s dress with agonizing deliberateness, then – you knew this was probably going to happen – shears open her belly, in a gruesome perversion of a Cesarian section. Blood slowly runs in a river down the steps. The film mercifully fades to black as the intruder starts to reach inside Sarah.
Next we see the burned woman cradling a healthy baby in the dark. She walks over to the rocking chair. The camera pans over Sarah’s horrifying corpse, cut open like a post-dissection frog, and our killer gently rocks the baby to sleep.
- Rather than focus on the obvious – that this film is a bit of an ordeal in its intensity and relentless gore – let’s try to figure out what Inside means. After all, this is a film, above all, about childbirth. More specifically, about fear of miscarriage. The film opens with a near-fatal car accident (well, it’s fatal for Matthieu). When she comes to, Sarah is obviously concerned about harm to the baby. Immediately after the credits, she’s having an ultrasound (a regular check on the health of the fetus). The broad (and maybe too-obvious) metaphor is a film that makes concrete Sarah’s (and any expectant mother’s) fear of miscarriage. In this reading, the intruder isn’t so much an actual person as fate/God/circumstance that rips her baby away from her. And because it’s symbolism in a horror movie, this person is going to take the baby away in the most terrible, unthinkable way possible.
- As much as Inside is a nightmare funhouse mirror look at childbirth, it’s also a reverent look at motherhood. Who gets to be mothers and who does not. As Sarah is about to become a mother herself, she pushes away her own mother – she refuses to see her over Christmas, she hands responsibility of the hospital drive to her editor. But when she inadvertently kills her own mother, it’s a unforgivable transgression. She can’t stop thinking about it, frantically confessing to the police when more urgent things are happening. And during the climax, an agonized Sarah cries for her dead “Mommy.” When Jean-Pierre arrives, the intruder seems to indulge his belief that she is Sarah’s mother because she so badly wants to be a mother herself. Though, on paper, the film would appear to be very anti-mother, there is nothing in the film venerated or desired more than motherhood and mothers in general. Even the grim ending is framed, in some way, as a happy one. The maternal act of our killer with her newly stolen baby is one that results in an odd peace and calm.
- Another curious aspect of Inside is how it plays against a backdrop of Parisian riots – ones that pitted the largely immigrant suburbs against police and the white Parisian elite. As it plays out in the narrative, one (alleged) rioter is dragged kicking and screaming into danger by the police. Abdel sagely notes that bringing him into the murder house is just a very elaborate and unusual form of police brutality. But more than that, is this sequence of events not just another act of colonialism? Police press-ganging a Middle-Eastern youth into the site of a brutal yet entirely domestic conflict? It’s like World War II all over again.
- While watching the film, I couldn’t help wonder how different a film it would be, were the intruder a man. As it is, the film leaves you in near-total despair. You want to crawl into a hole and die, because the world is a terrible place. But if a man were the intruder, the film would add a horrible and – frankly – unwatchable layer of misogynist fervour that Inside, as repellant as it sometimes is, manages to avoid.
- Also, where would a modern horror film be without a photograph or audio or video clip needs to be enhanced? (It comes up a lot.) All horror post-1998 is the horror of bad resolution.
- No one ever suggests Inside as their favourite Christmas film. Could Inside become the new Die Hard?
Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: Some films are gruesome and some films are scary, and Inside manages to be a lot of both. Not only is it stomach-turning in its brutality, it’s unsettling in its intensity. The moment the intruder arrives at the door, my heart started pounding and didn’t slow down until well after the credits. Even when there’s a lull in the proceedings, you can’t relax because you know it won’t last long.
Best outfit: Sarah’s mother, Louise, has a really nice trench coat that features closely paired buttons all the way down.
Best line: “I don’t observe it, so fuck Christmas.” – Abdel, with one of the few comic lines of the movie.
Best kill: How to choose? Sarah spearing her own mother was the one that wrecked me, but seeing that police officer’s face blow to pieces is not an image I’ll soon forget.
Unexpected cameo: One of the first police officers who visits Sarah is played by Tahar Rahim, the star of French indie darling, A Prophet. And you might know the intruder, Béatrice Dalle, and the last cop to be killed, Nicolas Duvauchelle, from Claire Denis’s own entry to the New French Extreme, Trouble Every Day.
Unexpected lesson learned: If you call the Paris police about a prowler, it will take them roughly the time it takes to develop a full roll of film to arrive. (Remember, one-hour photo shops were fast.)
Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Scarangelo. (Sarah’s last name.)
Next up: The Old Dark House (1932).