‘Inside’: French Pregnant Body Horror At Its Finest


Guest post written by Deirdre Crimmins for our theme week on Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss.

Content note: Discussion of violence directed at women and violent images ahead. Spoiler alert.

Horror films have a unique way of showcasing exactly what we fear, but they often do so in a subtle way. While is it goes without saying that ax-wielding maniacs are to be feared, these films often slyly expose the issues that our society is too shy to deal with head on. In the 2007 French horror film Inside (directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury), fertility, reproduction, and infant loss are dealt with in a refreshingly direct and uncompromisingly bloody outcome, with no room for subtlety.
The film takes place during the course of Sarah’s last night alone before having her child’s delivery induced the next morning. Sarah (Alysson Paradis) lost her husband in a terrible car accident just a few weeks earlier. The crash is shown multiple times through the film, which illustrates the haunting presence of the loss in every moment of her day-to-day life. We see the crash from the perspective of her child in utero as well, which also frames this unborn child as a character in the film.
With the circumstances of Sarah’s pregnancy she is denied the typical rituals of birthing. She has no partner to help her pick out the child’s name. The birth date is decided by her doctor in a cold and clinical office, removing the excitement and surprise of delivery. Rather than spending the night before the birth readying the nursery and enjoying their last night together as a childless couple, Sarah is all alone.
That is, Sarah is alone until she is stalked by a mysterious stranger who appears at her door. The stranger is a woman (played by Béatrice Dalle) dressed all in black who tries everything she can to get Sarah to open the door. After an initial creepy stand-off, the woman forces her way in to the home, and the horror begins. This nameless woman wants Sarah’s child, and she is not waiting around for the birth.
The next hour of the film is a bloody cat and mouse chase between Sarah and this woman. The film is smart, and incredibly gory. Neither of these women hold back on violent acts to get, or keep, what they want.

Sarah

To begin to examine a horror film, there are several questions that can aid in the dissection of its purpose. When looking at Inside it can be helpful to pose this question: Where is the horror? By looking at the source of horror in the film, we can better understand what we are to fear.

Clearly the first level of horror in Inside is in the intruder. Her bloodlust for Sarah’s unborn child drives her violence. Initially, it is this desire for the child that is problematic. We find out later in the film that not only was this woman pregnant recently, but that she lost her child in the same car accident that killed Sarah’s husband. This unveiling in the plot is what shows the complicated relationship that Inside has with infant loss.
With this we see that another dimension of the horror in the film lies in the intruder’s loss of her pregnancy. She was nearly full term, and we see the car accident from inside her womb. The well-developed, though unborn, child is distressed by the jolt the crash delivered, and reacts as the amniotic fluid clouds up with blood. One can only imagine the pain suffered by the loss of a pregnancy at this stage, however the emotional havoc she sustains cannot justify her attack on Sarah, can it? Sarah was driving the car, after all. Is it too much of a stretch to demand from Sarah what Sarah took from her? It obviously is too much to ask, however the logical leap is not a far one to make.
Outside of the blame for the lost child lies a classic example of body horror. Films that contain plenty of gore are often, though not exclusively, “body horror” films. Here it is the body itself that is the source of the horror. The pain, blood, dismemberment, and other organic fluids in the film are definite sources of horror in Inside. The fact that the intruder is treating Sarah like merely a vessel that holds a child, and treats Sarah’s body with so little respect that this is clear, is horrific. Sarah is chased, tortured, and ultimately given a non-consensual cesarean, all to the horror of the audience. This treatment of Sarah and the fact that her body, and in particular her pregnant body, is the source of much of the horror in the film, that makes this a body horror film.
Despite the horror of two women battling one another for an unborn child, the film is quite feminist. Both of these women are smart (deranged and depressed respectively, but both make choices to further their own agendas in constructive ways). Sarah does have men who show up to attempt to rescue her, but with each effort these rescuers are outsmarted and brutally killed by the woman in black. Also, neither Sarah nor the intruder are ever shown as weak due to their womanhood. Both are shown as strong, self-sufficient people who just so happen to disagree over who should get to keep Sarah’s child.
Woman in Black

Though Inside deals with the horrors of the body, and the emotional response to losing a child, it does not treat pregnancy with romanticism or nostalgia. Sarah and the intruder are treated as believable characters that are each reacting to the extreme situations that they have found themselves in. It is this even-handed treatment of pregnant women as still functioning members of society, and not dainty figurines that have no autonomy, which makes the film a horror that you can empathize with. By putting well rounded, relatable characters in (hopefully) unrelatable situations you can just sit back and watch the blood flow.


Deirdre Crimmins lives in Boston with her husband and two black cats. She wrote her Master’s thesis on George Romero and works too much.

One Comment

  • Posted May 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to put a spoiler up, but that cesarean is not non-consensual. I get that the end is a massive twist, but I thought it was the twist was the most feminist aspect of the film and it’s rather odd that you haven’t dealt with it, spoilers be damned!

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