First published by Little White Lies
It is not difficult to see why the wilfully amateurish first-person mode of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity seems such an attractive option for the budding, cashless moviemaker – after all, such films can be shot on home digicams, any cinematographic infelicities and dodgy performances can easily be assimilated to the overall pseudo-realist vibe, and those two films famously made a mint at the box office. Yet you need only see a few inferior imitators of these (and there are hundreds of them) to realise that the format works only in very talented hands, and that its (typically first-time) directors might sometimes actually benefit from the greater discipline demanded of a larger production. So it has become something of a cliché amongst horror critics to groan about the oversaturation of the ‘shakicam’ market every time yet another low-to-no-budget ‘found footage’ film comes along hoping to cash in on the phenomenal success of its predecessors with rapidly diminishing returns.
The Inside bears all the hallmarks of a debuting director’s lurching folly – and yet this is not in fact the first time that actor Eoin Macken (Gwaine in TV’s Merlin) has directed, shot, written, edited or produced a feature, so that its problems cannot simply be reduced to the filmmaker’s inexperience. Opening with a po-faced text concerning the thousands of young people who go missing each year, the film focuses on a digital camera found at a pawnbroker’s by a lonesome man down on his luck. As he views the camera’s recorded footage with curiosity and growing horror, we see what he sees: six ill-fated Dubliners filming their own break-in at an (apparently) abandoned backstreet building, where they encounter first a trio of rape-minded thugs, and then something equally murderous but altogether more supernatural.
If on paper some of the victim’s names (Cora, Corina; Sienna, Sian) look similar, the personae who inhabit them are hardly more distinguishable on screen, as all attempts at characterisation quickly get lost in the dark. Early scenes of social and sexual betrayal are unengaging and go nowhere. The second act, in which the girls find themselves trapped, menaced and eventually assaulted by male persecutors, are genuinely upsetting to watch – but all this good work is undone once things start going bump in the night and the film reverts to the tried-and-trite shakicam tropes of terrified semi-innocents running, running, and running some more, in an interminable cat-and-mouse where each doorway promises something new that is never actually delivered.
Macken puts far too much faith in the intrinsic scariness of his interior locations (grubby rooms, underground cellars), while forgetting to have much of interest happen in them, and the satanic antagonist – essentially a naked bloke – never comes into either literal or metaphorical focus, proving an abstract anticlimax to all the laughing aggressions of the three abusers. It may be unusual to see ‘found footage’ actually being found, but this film’s opening and close have the same cheap look as the digicam material that they frame. The Inside offers a stale vision of inescapable entrapment that you too, like these hapless partygoers, will wish would just end – and then suddenly it does, in a manner that is both arbitrary and unsatisfying. It is all rather dull to look at, and there is not much going on inside either.
© Anton Bitel