Inside (À l’intérieur) (2007)

Inside (À l’intérieur) first published by Little White Lies

“I was in labour for 12 hours with my first. Shit, I didn’t half fucking suffer! And all for nothing. Stillborn.”

This anecdote, tactlessly related to a heavily pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) by a (smoking) nurse on Christmas Eve, the day before Sarah is due to be induced, encapsulates the full horror that can be inspired by all the pain, blood and uncertainty of childbirth. In their different ways, films like Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Alien (1979), Inseminoid (1981), Man Bites Dog (1992), The Hills Have Eyes II (2007), Puffball (2007) and Macabre (2009) have all exploited the perils of pregnancy, but few with such a vicious sense of intimacy as Inside (À l’intérieur).

In the film’s opening image, a foetus (shown in 3D ultrasound) is suddenly distressed by an irruption of blood in utero, as Sarah regains consciousness pinned inside a collision-wrecked car with her husband, now dead, beside her. This is not the first time in Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury‘s feature debut that death will intrude on birth – four months later, the scarred widow is home alone, waiting grimly for Christmas to dawn so that she can push out the baby towards which she now feels so ambivalent, when death comes a-knocking once again in the form of a mysterious, black-clad woman (Béatrice Dalle) who is hell-bent on claiming the unborn child for herself.

What follows is a gory mix of home invasion slasher and body horror, as domestic scissors, knitting needles and DIY spears wreak unspeakable havoc on the flesh of the two warring women and anyone else unfortunate enough to come between them. It is all so gruellingly tense and bludgeoningly violent that viewers barely have time to catch their breath – and it is only after the closing credits have rolled and your fists have unclenched that the film’s ambiguities and irrationalities return, not unlike Dalle’s creepy ‘femme’, to haunt you.

For the filmmakers wisely omit to reveal the inside scoop on whether their survivalist thrills are literal assault and battery (with Dalle as the vengeful psychokiller), supernatural tale (with Dalle as the ghost), or psychological dramatisation of dying Sarah’s struggle to keep her baby alive in the car’s – and mother’s – interior following the massive physical traumas of a road accident (with Dalle as death itself). No matter how one sees it, however, Inside is a bleakly visceral chiller that penetrates your consciousness like a metal blade through the skull.

strap: Gravid with ambiguity, Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury’s feature debut is a shocking forced entry in the New French Extremity

Anton Bitel