My mother says I’m a product of my generation. “With all the video games and movies,” she attempted to clarify. Nevermind that I don’t really play video games aside from WiiSports and Mario Kart. Nonetheless, it made for hard case to explain mysudden acute interest with violent, disturbing horror movies.
I’ve seen Quarantine and Saw. The Ring had me quivering under my comforter for six months when I was sixteen and Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake made me want to vomit. But these are not the kind of movies that I’m interested in, not anymore. Those movies are the products of my “generation,” the attempts to satisfy an ongoing and unending thirst for more. I’m not looking for more – I’m looking for It.
This past Christmas I watched Inside, an unflinchingly gory French horror film from 2007, involving scissors, knitting needles and impromptu C-sections. It was mentioned in passing in the behind-the-scenes featurettes for Grace, and since I had already managed to get through Martyrs and loved it, it seemed like a good idea to put it on my Netflix queue. It sat in its red envelope for over a month before I finally sat down to watch, and until about twenty minutes in I was worried that it was just another horror/thriller that was going to leave me shaken but empty by its end. And then I knew that Inside had It. Or at least, it had something
(Spoilers and descriptions of graphic violence abound, be warned).
The scene that did it, that had me leaning forward, eyes bugged out to the screen, was where we first see our heroine’s attacker, the woman who wants to get into Sarah’s home and to what’s inside of Sarah. It is not necessarily scary. Not to me anyway. I thought it was beautiful actually, though those are hardly exclusive terms. This was where the visual style that I heard touted about really got interesting, but what thoroughly rocked me was the fact that I had never seen a woman portrayed in such a way before ever in a movie.
There have been many female villains, many shown in silhouette, with only a cigarette to light their face. Some may have even had the evil eye close up. But not like this, not that I’ve seen.
The first image of Sarah’s attacker we see is an androgynous silhouette behind the glass of Sarah’s back door. Her hair is pulled back, and her shoulders broad, her body slim and tall. The only reason why we know it’s a woman is because we heard her speak through the door previously. The flash of light that illuminates her face is hardly helpful, her features are striking but difficult to tell if she’s beautiful (she is, in fact, she resembles an older Angelina Jolie, which is creepily fitting). And then she punches the glass.
Realistically, a woman of her size and build punching a glass door, fracturing it and not hurting herself , not even wavering in fact, is pretty implausible. Which is entirely the point. In this moment, she is a demon, a villain that surpasses gender, even humanity to terrorize this one woman. A remarkable moment, being that what this villain’s pursuit is one very much of a woman – the desire for a child. Her strength and will throughout the film is at a near supernatural level, adding to the surreal atmosphere of the film despite its graphic nature, and it is also reflective of the strength of her desire, her physical prowess a result of her madness, an exaggerated result of her own human instincts.
Sarah’s behavior is also interesting, though she cradles her belly repeatedly, one gets the impression throughout the film that her unborn child is not as important to her as one might think. Over the phone, she cries to the police that she’s pregnant, knowing that this will bring them running to protect her, but when she puts the phone down there is no sign of this moment of vulnerability. In the twenty minutes up to this point, Sarah seems hardly interested in birthing or children, shown slumped, glowering down over her belly. She takes pictures of a family in the park, but her interest is not in the child, but the whole unit, which she can no longer have with her husband dead. Like the villain who looks in on her through the glass door, Sarah looks at the rest of the world through her lens, wanting what has been lost to her. Her fantasy of her husband while she gazes at his pictures, embracing her belly and kissing her, completes her love and interest in family, but without him having a child is just not the same.
Once the attacker – “la femme” as she is credited – has quietly broken in, we see her wearing what appears to be an old fashioned black dress, complete with corset. Her hovering over Sarah’s bed, as she sleeps in her white nightgown, with a jar of antiseptic and a pair of scissors paints a portrait of the two traditional concepts of femininity – the innocent versus the witch. As the movie continues though we see the relationship is a lot more complex than that. The moment is paralleled later in the film, when Sarah is back in bed, now bloodied and exhausted, and the woman begins to kiss and caress her. Now not only is she a potential thief of children and a murderer, but also a sexual predator, which would complete her image as the evil side of femininity. However, though she is frighteningly beautiful at times, mostly she is desexualized throughout the film, at one point shrugging off the advances of Sarah’s employer as though he wasn’t there. What brings her to Sarah’s bed in this way is the combination of Sarah’s vulnerability, and also that she is the mother of her child to be. She has plenty of reason to hate Sarah – she was driving the car that killed her unborn son along with Sarah’s husband – but what she sees in Sarah in truth is a potential partnership. Not in a long term sense of course, she understands that Sarah will die as consequence of her actions. But she believes that Sarah doesn’t want her child, that she is doing Sarah and her daughter a favor. That she and Sarah are of one mind, and that Sarah might give in completely to her will, is what is arousing. The film rides not on the contrast of the two women, but where they come together.
After la femme traps her in the bathroom, she asks Sarah for her child, telling her that she doesn’t really want it. Sarah appears both baffled and heartbroken by the accusation. “What are you talking about?” she asks. Sarah’s dull behavior up to this point is not of anger, but of apathy, of emptiness. She hadn’t been sure what she wanted, but it wasn’t like she could turn back time. She would go through with the birth, regardless, and have a child. It never occurred to her that someone could take that away.
This sense of entitlement is what motivates both villain and victim. The villain had clearly wanted a child deeply all her life, and unlike Sarah’s interest in family, there’s no mention of a male partner in her situation that led to her pregnancy. Both Sarah and her attacker lost what they wanted most in the accident, but while Sarah knows she can’t get her husband back, la femme sees a way to get a child and justice. “Open your door,” she says to Sarah, locked in the bathroom. Let me inside. Her loss has convinced her that she can take what is not hers, that she can invade and pry open without flinching. This is the purpose behind the gore and violence in this film. If a woman is willing to do this in her pursuit of motherhood – bring down grown men and tear a young woman open with only the tools immediately available to her, then who are we to look away? This demon is something that the world at large, ourselves included, has created, made a monster of a woman, the overbearing pressure to aid in the human effort and make more people serving as the catalyst for her rampage, and in turn created a force that confronts the true expectant mother of her real feelings about the life that she will create.
Because Sarah’s only interest, when it comes down to it, is her life. When the stand off leads them to the kitchen, Sarah threatens to destroy the prize, pointing a knitting needle to her belly. The woman only grins at her – the move only proves her point. Sarah is willing to sacrifice her child, not just for her life, but for her pride, because stabbing her womb may very well kill her, but at least her attacker will not get what she wants. One could argue that she’s keeping an innocent child from the hands of a maniac, but Sarah never talks about her child once in the movie. She never speaks of her desire to protect her or her desire for her, but merely clings to her round shape like a security blanket, the last remainder of the life she could have had. The life she has now she fights for tooth and nail, even having the balls to give herself a tracheotomy with the aforementioned knitting needle when blood blocks her airway. This we are shown in graphic detail as well, because her battle is as worthy of our eyes as her attacker’s is.
Ultimately though, it is that child in the center of the battle that betrays Sarah, a moment foreshadowed by the nightmare she has of her daughter crawling her way up her throat to be born and Sarah’s own accidental killing of her mother in an effort to survive. In a moment that takes the film from suspense thriller to supernatural horror, one of the police officers attempting to help Sarah but brought down by the villain with his partner’s gun, manages to stagger back to life, massive brain trauma and all, to attack Sarah just as she was about to impale her weakened demon, landing a well placed blow to her belly, causing bloody fluid to splash to the floor and finally inducing labor. Sarah can no longer stand, let alone fight off her enemy – even after the woman has been burned severely, another reference to her position as a wicked witch – and when the baby can’t be delivered normally the scissors are brought back in to play. The scene is surprisingly tender and sensual, and while we are spared the majority of the gore, the filmmakers would’ve been dishonest to complete the story without showing us la femme scissoring Sarah open, as awful as it is to see.
I am clearly totally into the new French Extreme Wave, as I’ve heard a few people call it. If that makes me a product of my generation, then fine, but I find that unlikely. If anything, my generation hides behind the gloss of fast cuts and packaged dialogue. And in this new genre, the role of women is clearly very different than that of typical horror. All the men present in the story are dead long before its end, while the two most important losses, Sarah’s husband and la femme’s son, are catalysts for the story. Inside is indeed a battle over a woman, like most movies, and its a battle between women in its most literal sense. But this is also a movie about women, from their ugliest fears and desires, to their sexuality and ferocity. This is a film that is willing to pervert what is held in the highest esteem in our society, in doing so it paints creates a portrait of our world. The final shot of the film is the woman cradling Sarah’s daughter in a chair, everything else blacked out, her own face destroyed and obscured. This is what she is willing to do – destroy herself, destroy the world around her, just for that moment, just for that child, and she is rewarded for her efforts, while the woman who didn’t just want the child, but the life, falls.