I watched Inside (2007) once before reviewing this DVD, and that first impression was one of repulsion. Upon a second viewing, nothing changed.
In terms of bleakness, it is odd for me to be very turned off by a film. I'm a guy with forensic and crime scene photo books aplenty. I count among my favorite films I Stand Alone, a movie whose subject matter and technique is designed to make viewers uncomfortable. While I understand why it isn't what most people go for, I find reward in exploring those little dark places. But, I didn't find Inside to be one of those insightful-though-dark films.
Inside follows the very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis), who is on the eve of inducing labor to have her first child. The opening sequence shows her get into a car wreck months earlier where she loses her husband. Her night is interrupted by a woman (Beatrice Dalle), who lays siege to Sarah's home and is obviously intent to kill Sarah and take her baby. Sarah is bloodied and beaten from the get-go, locked into her bathroom, and those who happen by are disposed of by the madwoman, so it eventually falls on the vulnerable Sarah to defend herself and her child.
When it is done right, there is something to be said for minimalism and economic storytelling. Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, who have parlayed Inside into a Hollywood move by helming the upcoming Hellraiser remake, definitely keep the details scant. Really all we know about Sarah is that she was in car wreck, is mourning the still recent loss her hubby who died in said wreck, she has a mom and a boss, and is expecting her baby. What kind of person she is beyond that (or was before her tragedy), who knows? Is she generally jovial? Is she a bitch? Is she ambitious? Lazy? An optimist? A pessimist? A people person? A loner? Like I said, normally it is nice to have some spaces to fill, but int this kind of film, where the setup is so brief and basically dives right into the action, Sarah is left so sketchy she basically becomes a generic victim. She is undefined, made a cipher, and I had a very hard time mustering sympathy for her. I guess because she is pregnant and in mourning, lack of characterization or not, those details alone should automatically lead to empathy.
Likewise, Dalle's character is a typical creepy, enigmatic villain, painted into the unreal with basic cartoonish, black trenchcoat clad strokes. We've got a cardboard villain and a cardboard protagonist. Not that I hate genre characters, far from it, but those kind of characters being effective is all a matter of tone. Dalle's characterization would be utterly brilliant in a more genre styled, exploitative, less serious and totally fucking dour horror film. Its like if Micheal Myers walked into the set of Funny Games.
So, it's a film without realistic characters, therefore, all we are left with is the situation and it is the situation that is the film maker's primary concern. Inside is a stunt film, a film basically all about one extended suspense setup. A setup that is unrelentingly mean and dire. The look and direction- subdued and bleak. The score- subdued and bleak. Makeup fx, chunky and wet, very 80's. Characters- bleak. All of it, bleak, bleak, bleak. What's fun or interesting about that? I certainly didn't find it tense. The suspense doesn't work because the execution and tone informs you that the worst will happen. You just know the most wretched outcome is inevitable, and from the early going its clear that character after character is going to meet a predictably grisly fate. Now, while that is true of all horror films, Inside takes a very different approach than, say, Friday The 13th.
I just didn't see Inside as having a point or purpose point beyond being a vehicle for grim, humorless, and witless bloodshed. Oh sure, there's a half-assed final twisteroo reveal that is supposed to provide an enlightenment/excuse for Dalle's slaughter, but really this final denouement about her character is a throwaway detail, crammed into the films final minute. To me, it smacked of a gimmick, one last, "Didn't see that one coming, did ya?" stab at the audience.
I guess to finally sum up why it didn't work for me, I'll point to two other recent Euro-horror's, Them and Haute Tension. Both, like Inside, are largely suspense-horror vehicles, especially Them which is similarly largely built around characters largely confined to one location attacked by mysterious assailants (it also has an offhand finale explanation too). Both of those films were more genre effective because the all so important mood was one of actual pulp thrill, not just grim, predictable hostility.
The DVD: Dimension
Anamorphic Widescreen. Dark. Muddy. Barely decipherable. And, no it isn't a transfer mistake. Like I said, in terms of overall technique it's a sullen one. I swear, this movie makes Eraserhead look as bright and brilliant as a day at the beach. The contrast and grain levels do seem a tad too severe, but, like I said, it seems to be intentional.
French or English 5.1. Optional English or Spanish subtitles with an additional English Close-Captioned option. I will give it kudos for sound design, well, at least, the dialogue and atmospherics are well-mixed and punchy. The scoring consists of flat droning numbers that really added to my problems with the film's tone.
Trailer. -- "Making of Inside" Featurette (51:56). The doc is very extensive, touching on everything from casting, the filming, fx work, to the marketing. Many nice insider and behind the scenes bits with the standard, though not overdone, back-patting.
My take on this film is one that I already know some horror fans disagree with. When I first saw the film, I commented about Inside on two different forums, basically asking those who gave it good remarks, why? Really, I didn't get much of an answer other than they generally found it scary and liked that it didn't pull back when it came to the gore. Despite my follow-up prompts to defend the middling character and substance of the story, no one offered much. Guess the morbid style and generous gristle was enough for some people. Maybe in this age of sanitized PG-13 horror (Prom Night remake was #1 this weekend), people just want the Grand Guignol. Or maybe there is something special that I just didn't see within Inside's viscera-soaked haze.
The DVD presentation is generally good. Short of absolute top quality but with decent image/audio and the sole meaty extra is informative and well-produced. But, since I didn't find watching the film a pleasurable or revelatory experience, I cannot in good conscience recommend it as anything beyond a rental.