Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Night of Pain - Inside

After I finished watching The Piano Teacher (an experience you can read about here), I felt pretty good about my little project (which you can also read about in that previous link -- I'm not going over that whole business again). The movie was certainly disturbing, which, for whatever reason, is what I was looking for, but it was also a good film. And The Piano Teacher was actually the film I was least interested in, out of the three, so I figured things were looking up. I wouldn't mind being disturbed by shocking material if the shocks were delivered honestly and in good faith by the filmmakers, by which I mean, the shocking material is present in the film because it can't not be there. The next film I planned to watch, a French horror film called Inside, had a premise that certainly lent itself to that idea; a film based on the same idea that was not shocking was approaching the material from a very curious angle indeed, so I felt, as I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during intermission, that as much as I didn't want to see what I knew Inside was going to show me, at least the film had a better than even chance of being sincere. Little did I know.

Part Two: Far Beyond Merely Annoyed

I have a distinct memory of buying my wife a present one night back in 2004 (I can't remember the occasion), stopping off at a nearby bar for a quick beer before heading home, and seeing on the overhead TV a news report about a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett who had been murdered, and had her baby cut from her womb, by a walking nightmare named Lisa Montgomery. Other than the kind of nebulous horror that we all feel when we learn about new ways in which human beings torture and destroy each other, I don't remember any of the thoughts that went through my mind, but I do know that at no point did I think, "Boy, I sure hope somebody makes a movie about this some day."

Ah, but that's why I don't get paid to make horror films, because apparently two people thought that very thing, and not only that, but they took the job upon themselves. I do not blame Alexandre Bustillo or Julien Maury (both directed, and Bustillo wrote the script) for making a film based on the Stinnett murder (or any other murder like it -- I don't actually know that the Stinnett killing was their specific inspiration, but obviously it was based on the actual existence of this type of crime). I'm a horror fan, and while my tastes in the genre don't typically run in this direction, the philosophy of approaching horror by examining genuine, Earth-bound abominations like this is a valid one. I can think of few things more grotesque and awful than what happened to Stinnett, and while I suppose the idea that there is any conceivable merit (it should be noted here that the use of the word "merit" in regards to the horror genre is frequently different from its use in any other context, but it still applies) in constructing a work of fiction out of that story is debatable, an argument in favor of the existence of a movie like Inside -- or like Inside in theory, rather than in actual fact -- can be made. Basically, if a work of art can deal almost exclusively with an act of madness and evil, and find the humanity of the victim, if not the evil (though if you can do both, more power to you), then the existence of that work of art is justified and valuable.

If, on the other hand, you and a buddy hear about a case like the Stinnett murder, and see only the possibility of extending the inherent sadism past the reality of the situation because you guys grew up watching slasher movies and really want to find a way to raise the bar of extreme violence and gore in horror films, then I believe you're playing a very low game, and your film is going to be blissfully free of the humanity needed to make any of the horror mean something. There won't even be any horror in your film; only guts.

Which route do you think Bustillo and Maury took? Put it like this: Inside is based on a real crime, or several similar crimes, which involved one murderer and one victim who was killed, and another victim who was essentially kidnapped (such a small word to describe what happened to Stinnett's baby). In telling a similar story, Inside somehow manages to find room for seven murder victims, the entrance of each into the story more contrived than the last, and the exit of each more outlandishly violent. Three of the victims are police officers who arrive at the home of the pregnant woman, played by Alysson Paradis, to follow up on a call she placed earlier about a strange woman trying to gain entrance to her home. I've never heard of cops traveling in threes like that, but maybe in France they do. In order to add to the pile of bodies, Bustillo and Maury also put a young criminal to the back seat of the squad car, who, when two of the cops run into trouble (one is stabbed in the eye by the Woman -- played by Beatrice Dalle -- and the other's head is blown in half), the third has to drag him into the house so he won't escape. The criminal is stabbed in the forehead with a pair of scissors, and the fate of the final cop is too grotesquely convoluted to go into here.

That's all this film is: enter victim, exit victim; enter victim, exit victim, and on and on until the film has gone on long enough that Bustillo and Maury can deliver the violently enforced birth scene they promised us, and then role credits. Inside is a slasher movie, nothing more, though it likes to behave as though it has something serious on its mind -- actually, I think it's less than a slasher movie, because on the whole slasher movies don't offend me like this one did. But it even has a moronic twist at the end, a twist that I suppose is meant to heighten the emotion of the story. The problem is, the twist means nothing, it adds nothing; no one even fucking reacts to the information. It's a cynical and amateurish bit of storytelling that is supposed to make the audience think, "Oh, so that's why!", but the filmmakers care for nothing else than splatting shit on the walls of their set, so they move past the twist in less than a minute, so they can reach the end of their miserable little garbage-heap of a film more quickly.

Out of a sense of fairness, I must point out that the final shot of Inside has a kind of infernal, nightmarish elegance too it, and the shot would have been almost breathtaking in a film that handled this material with more care, honesty and humanity. Placed at the end of this movie, however, I got the feeling that Bustillo and Maury simply thought -- as with the earlier shot of the cop's head exploding -- it looked cool. Fuck this movie.

But hey, Inside does run a brisk 80 minutes. So there you go.


Fox said...

Inside is a slasher movie, nothing more, though it likes to behave as though it has something serious on its mind

Hole in one, Bill! That is exactly my beef with the majority of French horror that has been elevated as this new, artsy type of horror, when really it's just bad slasher trash with competent camera men.

And I agree with you 100% on the twist as well.

I remember thinking "I bet this movie is shit" when [SPOILER COMING] the first thing we see from the start is an embryo bleeding in utero.

I knew I hated this movie before the "birth" scene, but if the mother had at least survived - and killed Dalle - I don't think I would have hated it as much.

Reading your review reminded me of so much that I hated about this film (the death of the third cop that you call "grotesquely convoluted" is one of them).

Fuck this movie.

You can say that again! Or, wait... I'll say it for you... FUCK THIS MOVIE!

bill r. said...

Yeah, it's not any good. At all. I haven't seen a lot of this new wave of French horror, and there are a couple at least that I want to still check out, but this was a bad introduction. And I'm further bothered by the fact that Inside is considered one of the better ones, but I guess I'll see.

jryan said...

I'm not a fan of slasher movies at all, but I do like my "monster" movies to make me hate the villain.

This seems like one of those movies where I spend the whole time hating the film crew.

bill r. said...

This seems like one of those movies where I spend the whole time hating the film crew.

That's how I felt, all right. It's really despicable. Fox is right: Inside gets lauded because it has a professional behind the camera, and a dash of style. But that ain't enough.

I can, I must admit, understand the cheap thrills that some people get out of certain slasher movies, but I can count on one hand the number that I actually thought were any good. But in the grand scheme of things I probably haven't seen that many. Does Black Christmas and Halloween qualify as slasher films? I like those, at least. They're not really gorey, though.

John Self said...

"There won't even be any horror in your film; only guts."

Oh! Well put.

bill r. said...

Thanks! I was worried people might think I was saying Inside was brave.