TIFF Report: INSIDE (À l'intérieur) Review

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Believe the hype on this one. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's debut film is one of the harshest, most brutal and disturbing things to hit celluloid in recent years, an unrelenting cavalcade of pain and fear. It is an absolute bloodbath featuring some stunningly graphic imagery, imagery that shocks and chills to the core. It is also surprisingly classic in form, a film that nods to the masterful psychological thrillers of old and recognizes that true horror lies in the soul rather than outward behavior. Anchored by a pair of powerhouse performances from its female leads Inside is a film that will stick with you well beyond the final frame.

It is Christmas Eve, the holiday that is paradoxically the happiest time for year of many while also boasting the highest suicide rate by far of any day of the year. France is being swept by yet another wave of rioting and class violence while Sarah stays at home alone mourning the death of her husband four years ago in a car accident, an accident that occurred while she was at the wheel, his absence brought home even more by the fact that Sarah is heavily pregnant by him and due to be induced the following day. Sarah will have the gift of a Christmas baby, a gift that will always remind her of her loss.

Sarah's mourning is interrupted by a knock at the door, a strange woman asking to come in and use the phone. But something seems wrong, Sarah refuses, and her intuition is proven correct when her late night visitor begins to recount intimate personal details about Sarah's own life back to her. We quickly realize that Sarah's assailant has only one goal, she wants Sarah's baby and is willing to tear it from Sarah's still warm flesh to get it. Will anyone survive once she gets inside?

Inside succeeds because Bustillo and Maury are smart enough to root their scenario into an instantly recognizable situation before beginning to crank up the levels of tension and violence, which they do unrelentingly. We understand Sarah, we understand her loss and her grief, and so we also understand her terror. Likewise we also recognize the obsessive desperation of the woman who wants nothing more than a child to call her own. While the situation is extreme and contrived the emotions behind it are not at all and this emotional grounding gives the film makers license to push things and push them hard in any number of directions. As long as responses and reactions ring true - and they do throughout - the emotional core of the story holds and Maury and Bustillo are free to lay an emotional beating on their audience.

They feed their beast wisely, the body count being added to and padded in ways that make perfect sense, in ways that you'd expect it would were this to happen in real life. Sarah's mother comes to check on her pregnant daughter. Her boss, scheduled to take her to the hospital the next morning, does likewise. Patrolling cops called in after the initial knock on the door swing by. Each of these characters and situations makes perfect sense within the story, each of them behaves as you'd expect they really would - there are no senseless teens in the woods here to simply up the count, each of these work as real people which makes what is done to them all the more horrific.

The core of the film lies undoubtedly with its two lead actresses. Alysson Paradis - sister to Vanessa and sister-in-law to Johnny Depp - turns in a fearless and nuanced performance as Sarah, the woman who must find the strength to survive for the sake of the baby she carries. Maury and Bustillo remarked that they cast her in part because she simply doesn't care about her on screen image, she has no vanity or need to look good on screen, which was an absolute must for the pair and she acquits herself remarkably well. The iconic Beatrice Dalle is even more remarkable as Sarah's unnamed assailant, a remorseless woman utterly consumed by her obsession and coldly willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to get what she wants.

Inside is a punishing film, one that will leave you feeling more than a little bit bruised when the credits roll by. It is not for the squeamish, certainly not for those uncomfortable with the sight of blood. More than likely destined for a straight-to-DVD release here in North America, it deserves far better.

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