HAUTE TENSION - French poster
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directed by: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
starring: Béatrice Dalle, Alysson Paradis, Nathalie Roussel, François-Régis Marchasson, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, Dominique Frot, Claude Lulé, Hyam Zeytoun, Tahar Rahim, Emmanuel Guez, Ludovic Berthillot, Emmanuel Lanzi, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Aymen Saïdi

choice dialogue:

"Who are you?!"

- Sarah tries to reason with La Femme

slash with panache?

[review by Justin Kerswell]

Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s INSIDE is a powerhouse slasher movie. Certainly, it's the best example of the subgenre I’ve seen since another Gallic terror, HAUTE TENSION appeared in 2003. Who knew the French could do slasher movies so well?

Sarah is just days away from giving birth to her baby, but what should be a joyous occasion has been indelibly tainted by the death of her boyfriend in a head on crash some months before (she was injured, but not fatally – and her baby escaped unharmed). She is working as a photojournalist, with the Paris riots of a few years ago providing the distant violent backdrop to the film. Both Sarah’s boss and her Mother are worried about her, but she insists that she’s OK and wants to spend time alone in her quiet suburban home before her baby is born.

She retires to her house in a quiet Paris suburb to settle in for the night, but before long there’s a knock at the door. A woman (Béatrice Dalle) asks to be let in so she can use the phone to contact a mechanic for her broken down car. Displaying the kind of intelligence rare in the subgenre, Sarah refuses her entry and suggests she try one of her neighbours. She lies and tells her that her husband is asleep upstairs and she doesn’t want to wake him. The woman however tells her she knows she doesn’t have a husband and that she knows her name. Obviously, Sarah realises something is very wrong but the woman is gone when she looks out of the door.

Any hopes that she will be left in peace are quickly dashed, when she sees the woman watching her from outside (her white face appearing to hang in the darkness like Michael Myers emotionless mask in the original HALLOWEEN (1978) – a comparison I’m sure the film makers were inviting). After the woman smashes at the window, Sarah sensibly calls the police, but when they arrive there is no trace of her – although Sarah managed to take a grainy photo of her face.

She is finally able to fall into an uneasy sleep, but wakes in terror to find the woman leaning over her, scissors posed at her belly button ready to cut her open …

This boundary pushing exercise in sustained dread and graphic horror has ripped its subject matter from the headlines (in much the same way that the film’s villain wishes to rip the unborn baby from Sarah’s womb). It takes it subject matter from the macabre real life headlines of women so desperate to have a baby that they will stalk, befriend and eventually kill pregnant women – often cutting the foetus from her whilst she’s still alive – and then try and pass the baby off as her own. It’s an understandable choice for a pair of directors who want to make their mark, and is filled with many horrific possibilities (most of which they deliver on in the film’s lean 86 minute running time).

After a bloody start (showing the fatal car crash) INSIDE settles into what could be mistaken for any number of French art house flicks: ponderous dialogue and static shots. However, once Dalle appears (she is called simply La Femme in the credits – further cementing her role as a cipher much like Myers) the film takes a jarring side turn into unease and ever creeping dread. Famous for playing kooky characters, Dalle excels herself as La Femme: a woman whose tearful and raging single-mindedness makes her a true object of fear. A mesmerizing and truly demented performance, without resorting to the kind of scenery chewing you might expect. You feel that there is (or was previously) some semblance of humanity that’s drowned out by an absolute need for the unborn child. She will literally stop at nothing to get what she wants – and in a nice Gallic touch only lets her need for cigarettes get in the way of the bloodshed she’s orchestrating!

Luckily for Sarah (but not for them), several other people turn up at her house during the night. All of them are dispatched by La Femme with a chilling effectiveness before they can rescue her. You often hear about how one film is gorier than the next, but the bloodshed and gore here is so epic (but most importantly not cartoonish) that it makes even HAUTE TENSION look like DRIVING MISS DAISY. It would be impossible to list all the crimes against flesh (mostly with the giant pair of scissors that LA Femme wields throughout), but by the end of the film hardly one inch of the suburban household is not awash in crimson. The juxtaposition of the incongruous level of violence in this quiet neighbourhood, compared to the street violence erupting in the poorer neighbourhoods is quite breath taking. You can see why Clive Barker chose the directors to take on the HELLRAISER remake.

The film does have a few minor flaws which stops it becoming a true horror masterpiece. Because Sarah is so detached and cold from the start, it’s difficult to warm to her and subsequently react to her plight in a way we might for a more sympathetic character. It’s understandable that she’s that way, but making her warmer would have helped. Also, whilst the strength of the movie is partly its ability to handle visceral horror without becoming farcical it does slip over the edge a couple of times and perhaps takes the audience out of believing whole-heartedly in what is happening.

Personally, I loved HAUTE TENSION (twist and all). Those who hated the twist will be glad to hear that whilst INSIDE has a curve ball in its tail it’s believable and ultimately makes sense.

INSIDE really gets under your skin – I can only imagine what it would be like if you were a pregnant woman watching it! Best slasher flick of the last few years no contest.

BODYCOUNT 8  bodycount!   female:2 / male:6

       1) Male killed in car crash
       2) Female hat pin pushed through neck
       3) Male stabbed to death with scissors
       4) Male stabbed in eye with hat pin
       5) Male has head blown off with a gun
       6) Male has scissors stabbed into his forehead
       7) Male killed with scissors
       8) Female has stomach cut open