Sunday, April 27, 2008

French Horror Done Right

Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's "Inside" is terrifying. I don't know any other way to put it. After so many pf the recent wave of French horror films missed the mark ("Haute Tension", "Them", "The Ordeal"), Bustillo and Maury take a simple premise- a pregnant woman home alone on Christmas Eve, ready to give birth the next day, and the emergence of a sadistic other woman (simple billed as "the woman") trying to get to the unborn baby- and wrench every bit of tension and disturbing psychology out of it. Taking place largely in a single house over the course of the night, "Inside" is brilliant in the way it squeezes enormous chills out of lighting and camera placement. There's one stunning sequence as the pregnant woman sits on the couch, and a simple head move reveals a dark figure looming slowly behind her... and then the figure recesses back into the shadows as the pregnant woman stands up. It certainly could have been CGI, but if it wasn't, it reveals the keen eye of directors Bustillo and Maury for atmospheric scares.

The sadistic woman, played by sexpot actress Beatrice Dalle, is a relentless force as she sulks through the film in her flowing black gown, grabbing any sharp instrument she can as her weapon of choice. It's a ferocious performance, exemplified by the almost primal way she's framed in one scene from a long shot down the hallway as she violently kicks on the bathroom door that her prey is locked behind. Dalle is beautiful, but "Inside" juxtaposes that weird beauty in frightening ways. She's calm and exacting, which gives her kills an even more menacing feel. And then there's the blood. "Inside" probably flushed half its budget on buckets of blood. Imagine the shooting finale of "Taxi Driver"... how gritty and blood spread those scenes were and you get the idea about "Inside". The same style of lighting, exaggerated and yellow fluorescent, is used to the same effect in "Inside" by cinematographer Laurent Bares, but there are also extended lengths of time where low lighting (or full on blackouts) are the vision of choice. Sometimes, blackness in horror films depletes any energy, but here it elevates the tension as Bustillo and Maury give us glimpses of figures at the edge of the screen. And I've yet to mention the music, or lack thereof. While the opening gives us strings of orchestral music, once the action begins it turns into disconcerting noises, shrieking violins and an unnerving pulsating noise by musician Francios Eudes (also responsible for "Haute Tension"). Everything is done right and it blends into an altogether riveting and spellbinding masterpiece of horror. But is it really happening? "Inside" can be seen as many things. An attack on the restlessness of French youth and it's repercussions on suburban lifestyle (since the film takes place during the riots of French citizens)... the precarious and fragile state of mind of a woman about to begin her life as a mother... or an act of simple revenge? The film can be read several ways. No matter how you read it, it's an utterly disturbing experience, and one of the best films of the year.

Note- there are 2 versions out there. See the unrated version, which is about 7 minutes longer.

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