Thursday, April 17, 2008


I can't tell you what happens at the end of "Inside", the new spectacularly gory horror film from France, because I didn't really see it, at least not all of it. I had my eyes closed and was looking at the ceiling thinking why am I really watching it. I am not specially fond of this genre of "visceral horror" but this one came recommended from "serious" people - it was one of the selections of the "film comment selects" film festival in new york in February early this year. It is definitely an accomplished work, at least if you are sympathetic to the filmmaker's intentions and the film's raison d'etre. It is certainly in a different league than other films like Hostel or Saw or other horror films targeted towards the male adolescent audience - the "if you can't take that you are a pussy" crowd. I have seen only the first in both series, to my extreme irritation and annoyance in both cases.

Anyway, coming back to Inside, the story is set on one Christmas eve in a Parisian suburb. Sarah is still mourning the death of her husband in a car accident four months ago. She is also heavily pregnant with his baby. In fact in the beginning we see her doctor telling her that he will induce the labour next day if everything is normal and asking her to enjoy the "last night of peace". But. It is still early in the night and a mysterious woman (billed on the credits simply as "La Femme" and played by Beatrice Dalle who specialises in the playing all out nutcases) breaks into her house. We soon learn that what she wants is Sarah's baby! She doesn't explain why and I was thinking she was just a nutcase psycho (probably lesbian) driven mad by the overpowering maternal instinct. There is a sort-of revelation in the end which actually makes it more prosaic. Anyway, the main problem is that she hasn't come with any surgical instruments to do the necessary caesarian. She just has that shiny kitchen Scissors and other household items like darning needles and stuff! Sarah has to run not for her baby but for her life. In a weird twist the film makers intercut these cat and mouse scenes between the two women with scenes from the perspective of the baby! A bunch of unfortunate side characters also wind up at Sarah's house giving an excuse for the film makers to show the kind of bloodbath and all out massacre that really pushes the limits.

The main line of defence that the fans of genre have is the Aristotelian one - that is, the films help in catharsis of our subconscious fears - fears of bodily pain and mortality and the fact that our bodies which are vessels of all our hopes, desires, memories, thoughts, feelings, in short our identities and who we are - can be so fragile. Just a small kitchen knife is enough to finish the whole life story! I do think that these are very important questions. Asking and thinking about these is what makes us aware of what it means to be a human. Now not all horror films have this awareness of mortality and death either and those that do, I really love them. It is also not necessary that these themes can be explored only in the context of a horror genre but yes, among the populist genre only horror has the capability of going into these directions.

On the basis of this criteria Inside succeeds only to a limited extent mainly because the film's plot had so many major holes and not all of them related to gynaecological matters. The film makers seemed to be more interested in the colour, texture, viscosity and dynamics (as they spurt) of various bodily fluids. I think it's a shame because it wastes such a wonderful opportunity, not just in making those abstract fears that I talked of earlier "real" but also making some interesting commentary on the representation of pregnant female body on screen. Although it did make me think about some of these issues, but may be that was only me. There is a different sort of "male gaze" at play here. Normally the female body is seen as a site of desire and from that perspective pregnancy becomes something "grotesque" and disruptive. It is like "ewwww" (the film has one nice vomiting scene too) mixed with fears and concerns for her - what will happen if she just slips or trips over, for example? Feminists argue, and very rightly so, that the various secretions and biological processes (including pregancy) of female body have been pathologised by the patriarchy which gives it one excuse to turn women into "other". I don't want to argue too much on film's behalf and may be it was just me reading Simone de Beauvoir but it did make me think about these taboos surrounding the representation of pregnancies on screen. Having said that, it is certainly NOT recommended for pregnant women or even those women who plan to be pregnent in near future.

Some nice comments from village voice ("Say hello to the motherfucking anti-Juno")and house next door (scroll down for both reviews).


Kubla Khan said...

I have not watched or heard about this movie till now, but may i say what an excellent post!

Alok said...

thanks Kubla, what did you like in it? :)

hope you are doing well!

Kubla Khan said...

Well, it reminded me of your usual writing and that while you don't endorse it entirely, you have written about it with a certain sympathy.
i found the male gaze and references to pregnancy quite amusing.
i am personally quite content in just reading about such movies.

Alok said...

It really is an extreme film and a questionable experience overall, specially for someone who doesn't like horror :)