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From Inside is an oppressively bleak experience. I admired it a lot more than I appreciated it. Sometimes we need artists like John Bergin, who adapted and directed his own graphic novel into a nightmarish hybrid of a motion comic and a low-budget CGI feature, to push the envelope as far as it can be pushed in order to examine how dark and foreboding a piece of art can truly become.
When film critics go out of their way to convince general audiences to seek out a powerful and engaging film they consider to be a masterpiece, one that might delve into a dark and grim serious matter, we're mostly met with "I don't know, that sounds depressing".
I remember jumping through many hoops as I desperately tried to convince anyone to give 12 Years a Slave a chance, despite its honest depiction of the brutalities of slavery, because many critics, myself included, believe in the motto "Every bad movie is depressing and no great movie really is."
If a filmmaker is genuinely trying to evoke an emotional or intellectual response from the audience through a piece of art that has a reason for existing beyond simple shock value, there's always something to admire in that work even if it ends up a failure.
Not that From Inside is a failure, far from it. Hypnotically and hauntingly gorgeous, it's actually kind of a mini-masterpiece in indie animation. John Bergin's hellish vision of a pregnant woman trying to survive on a train that rides through a lifeless, post-apocalyptic hellscape full of death, pestilance, and even literally an ocean of blood, is definitely not for everyone, let alone anyone who's expecting a baby or has a newborn.
Upon reading the premise, I'm sure the first comparison anyone will think of will be Joon-Ho Bong's recent masterpiece Snowpiercer, which is about the class warfare that erupts inside a train that similarly rides around a post-apocalyptic wasteland, this time covered in snow instead of blood and ash.
From Inside was released in 2008 and recently re-released with a new soundtrack by Gary Numan. However, if you expect to hear anything close to his upbeat pop/electronic tunes from the 80s, you'll be sorely disappointed. On the other hand, the graphic novel that inspired Snowpiercer dates back to 1982.
Whatever the case, any comparisons between the two works beside the initial premise are moot, since they couldn't be more different in tone and narrative approach. If you thought Snowpiercer was too bleak, watching From Inside, which doesn't contain any of the light satirical touches of Snowpiercer, or even a miniscule amount of levity for that matter, will make you reconsider the meaning of the word.
From Inside doesn't have any dialogue as it's narrated entirely by Cee (An appropriately monotone Megan Gold), the pregnant woman who's forced to ride in the train after an unspecified disaster turned Earth into the wet dream of Hieronymus Bosch's depiction of hell. As she tries desperately to survive on the outside against the harsh conditions of her new life, she also fights against vivid nightmares trying to convince her of the futility of existence in a world as lifeless as the one she's about to bring a new life into.
The two disparate styles of animation, crudely rendered still frames of hand-drawn character sketches and smooth CGI production design, shouldn't work on principle, but here they blend perfectly in order to create the film's haunting visuals.
First and foremost, From Inside is primarily meant to be an audio-visual experience and should be enjoyed (That's the wrong word. Again, perhaps "admired" is better) in darkness, without any distractions, coming out of as big of an HDTV and as powerful of a sound system as the viewer can find. Regardless of the fact that this is a standard definition presentation, the video quality is crisp and gorgeous. The feature runs a meager 70 minutes, which itself is already a chore considering the bleak subject matter and its even bleaker execution. The short runtime and no extras on the disc allow the feature to run with an exceptionally high bit rate for the format. Aside from some aliasing issues, From Inside looked great upconverted on my projector.
There are two mixes, both in Dolby Digital, as we get a 5.1 surround track as well as a 2.0 stereo offering. The star of this special new Gary Numan edition is of course Numan's score, which gets a booming front seat in the mix. The sometimes bombastic, sometimes solemn electronic score will give your surround system quite a workout, especially through the excellent 5.1 mix. The design and mixing of the sound effects are also spectacular, especially considering that this was a low-budget production.
We get nothing. A brief featurette on the animation process could have been great.
From Inside is definitely not for everyone. Even for those to whom it might have been made for, it might prove to be a challenge to get through, even at a meager 70 minutes. Yet it's also a truly unique piece of art that's not afraid to push the boundaries of its medium.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com