There won't be an image this year, Gallic or not, that quite compares to the sight of a black-garmented Béatrice Dalle cutting open the stomach of a pregnant woman with a pair of knitting scissors as a means of performing an at-home Cesarean section in Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's wicked Inside.
Opening on a digitally-rendered fetus in the womb being shaken up by a car crash, directors Bustillo and Maury spend little time with pleasantries. That pregnant woman in the car is Sarah (Alysson Paradis) and the bloodied-up corpse next to her used to be her husband Matthieu. Four months later, both baby and mother are miraculously alive, prepping for an induced labor that will be administered the following day, Christmas. Hubby's death has left Sarah isolated from her mother and her boss, both of whom are given the cold shoulder when they offer to spend Christmas Eve with the mother-to-be. The night is to be spent solely with her black cat and the memory of Matthieu until that ominous knock on the door invites another guest to the party.
Dressed as if she wandered off of a Tim Burton set, a shadowy woman (Dalle) makes her way inside despite Sarah's hectic call to the police. Soon enough, every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Mum who steps into the house is met with the business-end of the woman's knitting needle or a pair of scissors. Eyes are gouged, heads are blown-off, genitals are pierced, and Sarah's pregnant stomach gets everything but the guillotine as the woman rampages to claim Sarah's baby girl as her own.
At an airtight 83 minutes, this crimson-spraying rampage gives irrefutable proof that France has become a certain presence in the horror genre. Repped by one major cop-out (2003's High Tension) and one superb creeper (last year's Them), Inside ends up being France's most definitive statement on modern horror to date. And like Neil Marshall's The Descent, Bustillo and Maury's visceral nightmare has the intelligence and complexity to leave the audience guessing. Is the woman an apparition? The harbinger of Sarah's fear of motherhood? A horrifying actualization of Sarah's baby at adulthood? The filmmakers eventually provide a simpler answer but are careful not to make it final.
Shot by Laurent Bares (who's also responsible for Xavier Gens' upcoming gorefest Frontier(s)) in 35mm, Sarah's house is seen in a haze that suggests a waking night terror while the dissolving transitions, courtesy of editor Stephane Freess (though largely known just as "Baxter"), are being splattered against every surface imaginable. Francois-Eudes Chanfrault's score, intermittently intrusive but consistently creepy, pulses in feverish beats along with every visual schism that Bustillo and Maury create. Unlike most modern horror, Inside refuses to soften its own blows by relying on the sensory shocks of snappy edits, loud squeals of violin, and the comforts of a sanitized ending. Here, the fear comes in visual tremors triggered by Bustillo and Maury's stylized aesthetic. It's pure, unadulterated carnage.
Aka À l'intérieur.