January 12, 2018
‘Inside’ Remakes One of the Best Horror Movies of the Past Decade…and It’s a Mess
The long-delayed Inside (À l’intérieur) remake is finally ready to see the light of day. What this Inside remake review presupposes is…maybe that’s not such a good thing?
Who is Inside for? It’s a question that kept running through my head as I watched the long-delayed horror remake. This remake of the 2007 movie À l’intérieur uses basically the same exact plot, same exact scenes, and same exact set-up. Yet the ultimate result is a puzzlement. The new Inside doesn’t flinch from graphic violence, yet it lacks the visceral chilliness of the original. It is, in a sense, not so much a copy, but a copy of a copy of a copy – something that maintains the original form, but loses its clarity.
The strange thing is, it didn’t have to be this way. The helmer of the Inside remake is Miguel Ángel Vivas, who directed the intense, unpleasant 2010 Spanish film Kidnapped. The fact that Vivas was hired to direct this remake suggests that someone, somewhere, had an idea that the Inside remake might deliver on the same nasty thrills as the original. Vivas isn’t some point-and-shoot workman director; any no-name filmmaker could’ve been brought in to deliver a quick, cheap remake. Vivas’ presence indicates that wasn’t the intention. And yet, here we are.
The original Inside, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, is one of the very best horror films of the 21st century. It’s a shocking, brutal, queasy thriller set across one blood-drenched Christmas Eve. It’s the type of movie that makes you sit up and take note, the type that reminds you that sometimes, there are horror movies that make you feel unsafe watching them. The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre gave off such a feeling: a sense that an audience shouldn’t be watching this. These type of horror movies shouldn’t be considered for daily consumption, but every now and then, it’s nice to remind yourself that there are truly shocking, unnerving films out there.
In sharp contrast, the Inside remake feels like something half-baked. There’s nothing dangerous here, or shocking. There’s just the sense of a film going through the motions – a lackluster cover song of a classic hit, hitting all the correct notes, but never in a way that makes much of an impact.
The original Inside was part of the New French Extremism – a 21st century film movement where French filmmakers would release grotesque, graphic, transgressive films meticulously designed to make you uncomfortable. Films that fall into this category are Martyrs (which also received its own similar, watered-down American remake), Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, and many more. Not all these films are created equal: some are tamer than others; some downright bludgeon you with their repulsiveness. Inside was one of the best of the bunch – an eerie, nasty, unpredictable nightmare loaded with body horror and jaw-dropping moments.
Which brings me back to my original question: who is this new Inside for? Fans of the original will roll their eyes at how tame the film seems compared to its forebearer, and newcomers unfamiliar with the original will likely find themselves wanting something more.
The set up is the same: a young pregnant woman (played here by Rachel Nichols) survives a car accident, but her husband does not. It’s Christmas time, the baby is due any second, and Nichols’ character Sarah drifts through her days with a sort of sadness. Then everything goes to hell, quite literally, when a stranger (played by Mulholland Drive’s Laura Harring) arrives and attempts to cut Sarah’s baby out of her stomach.
All of these beats are covered in the original film, but what makes the remake so underwhelming is the lengths it goes to avoid the things that made the first film stand out. In the French original, Sarah downright resents her unborn baby. After the accident takes her husband from her, she seemingly has no more interest in having the child – it seems like a fruitless endeavor. This may make the original Sarah come across as unsympathetic, but it also makes the rest of the film all the more interesting: Sarah goes from not caring if her baby is born, to fighting like hell to stop a crazy person from cutting the baby out of her. None of this is in the remake. There’s a brief throwaway line about how Sarah might be considering giving the baby up for adoption, but it comes seemingly out of nowhere and is instantly forgotten.
The biggest sin the Inside remake makes, however, is how it handles the murderous woman who wants to steal Sarah’s baby. As played by Béatrice Dalle in the French film, the character is consistently terrifying and thoroughly unhinged. Dalle’s plays the part as almost inhuman; she seems to come and go as she pleases, and there’s not even a spark of humanity inside her. She’s solely committed to brutal acts of terror, and prone to fits of earth-shattering rage.
Harring, in contrast, just comes across as bored. Harring is a worthy actress, as Mulholland proved, but she’s out of her depth here. Her performance, like the film itself, is simply going through the motions. We can fully believe that Dalle’s character will stop at nothing to cut that baby out of Sarah’s belly; Harring’s character seems as if she might give up and go home at any moment.
It is perhaps unfair to keep comparing the new Inside to the old Inside, but even when you take the original out of the equation, the remake suffers. Early in the film, Harring’s character shows up on Nichols’ doorstep and tries to sweet talk her way into the house. Nichols refuses, and keeps claiming her “husband is sleeping,” as a way to make Harring’s character think she’s not home alone.
“Why are you lying, Sarah?” Harring asks. “Your husband is dead!”
This is a pretty big reveal, yet when Nichols calls the cops, and the cops show up (after Harring has vanished), Nicholas somehow completely forgets to mention that a mysterious stranger on her doorstep knew her name, and knew that her husband was deceased. That’s a huge detail to forget.
Later, after Harring has trapped Nichols in the bathroom, Nichols goes to her window and attempts to shout for help to her neighbor. Then she watches in horror as Harring appears in the neighbor’s living room and stabs him to death. Rather than seizing this moment to escape – her attacker and captor is out of the house, finally – Nichols simply stands there, eyes wide.
After more police arrive, and Harring murders one of them, the dead cop’s partner shows up on the scene, fails to radio for backup, then marches Nichols back upstairs to help her investigate rather than get the hell out of the house. I suppose you could argue that these are standard horror movie tropes – people making dumb decisions. But they stick out like a sore thumb here.
Beyond these blunders, Inside also attempts to open the film up a bit: while the original was set entirely in the house, more or less, the remake throws in a car chase and a fight scene in a swimming pool. Neither add much.
It’s not all a misfire, though. Miguel Ángel Vivas’ direction is assured enough to make Inside at least look like more than a cash-grab remake. The film isn’t as stylish as the original, which was full of constant cutting and jarring close-ups. But Vivas is talented enough to know when to move the camera, and when to let stillness, and darkness, build a mood. A scene where Harring slowly appears in a pitch-black bedroom in a flash of lightning may be cliched, but it’s effective.
Hollywood seems to think that if they want to get an audience to see a recent foreign film, they need to remake it. This thinking might not even be entirely incorrect: people are inherently lazy, and there are audiences who (for some strange reason) flat-out refuse to watch a film with subtitles. And here’s the thing: the original Inside was not a perfect film. There was room for improvement. A late-narrative development involving an entire team of bumbling cops falls a bit flat and seems to only exist to up the film’s body count. Yet rather than address issues like this, the Inside remake instead kept them intact and then added some more.
An Inside remake has been trying to force itself into the world, kicking and screaming, almost immediately since the original film was released in 2008. Original directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were even approached about helming the film, but they wisely declined. REC director Jaume Balagueró became attached at one point, but then passed. Miguel Ángel Vivas has talent to spare, but was still unable to bring the right balance to Inside. The film eventually premiered in 2016 at the the 49th Sitges Film Festival, and then promptly vanished. There was little to no reaction out of Sitges, which probably should’ve been a warning sign. Now, Inside arrives unceremoniously on VOD, where it will find itself playing in the background of darkened living rooms while viewers pay more attention to their phones than the TV screen. Perhaps that’s for the best. Perhaps those viewers can then turn the film off as the credits roll, and pop on the original. I guarantee when the original Inside starts playing, their eyes will be glued to the screen.