In the South Park movie, Stan catches a clip from an online scheisse video and exclaims “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with German people?” Your response to À l’intérieur (now out on American DVD as Inside) may well be “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with French people?” Or maybe just “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with Béatrice Dalle?”
French people, whatever the fuck might be wrong with them, have in recent years relished the opportunity to show American horror fans that, when it comes to onscreen gore, the French are far from being cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise-Moi, Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension, and now Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s ferociously grotesque À l’intérieur spill the red red krovvy wantonly, almost disdainfully, creating Jackson Pollock splatters of rage and Gallic alienation. The Italians (Bava, Argento, Fulci, Deodato) used to be the big swinging dicks of world gorehound cinema, but leave it to the French to make Suspiria look like a ’30s drawing-room comedy.
À l’intérieur takes the woman-in-peril trope about as far as it can go, cruelly ups the ante by making her swollen with child, and sets Béatrice Dalle loose on her. Dalle made her mark 22 years ago in the fiercely polarizing Betty Blue and has never quite come down to earth, either in film or in life, since then. She has aged into a sultry, unstable virago, and if her diastemic choppers didn’t give you pause (who was it that advised never to trust a gap-toothed woman?), the serene madness in her eyes should do it. Her unnamed character wants the baby of expecting widowed mother Sarah (Alysson Paradis, sister of Johnny Depp’s paramour Vanessa) and will stop at absolutely nothing to get it. It helps that Paradis plays Sarah, pre-siege, as depressed and rather prickly. Sarah is due to give birth on Christmas Day, the father is months dead, riots are searing the streets of France, and is this world really worth bringing another life into?
The directors take their time (though it’s a very short film — 83 minutes in the unrated cut). For a while, À l’intérieur is less sanguinary than just plain creepy. After dark, the obsessed woman shows up outside Sarah’s house, barely glimpsed in the shadows, illuminated only by her cigarette. A little later, after the police have come and gone, she appears inside — it hardly matters how exactly she got in or eluded the cops. If you’re the type that picks logical nits, À l’intérieur will make you crazy; about half an hour in, the movie abandons rationality and dives into the logic of nightmares, in which you really need to scream but somehow you can’t, or you’re not looking over your shoulder for a madwoman brandishing large scissors because you don’t know you’re in a horror movie until it’s too late.
After a while, the flesh everywhere on the screen seems positively eager to part and open the floodgates. The movie becomes nasty, then disgusting, then disgustingly nasty. The two actresses keep this private war rooted in the fury only women can have for each other — this is as far from a sisterhood chick flick, or indeed a date movie, as a film can get without throwing porn into the mix. Occasionally an outsider stumbles into the fray, only to be discouraged in some very wet fashion. Towards the finish, even the hardiest viewer may groan and wonder if the film will go there. Not only does it go there, it snaps full-color photos and shoves them under your nose. For all that, the most disturbing thing in À l’intérieur is the sight of Béatrice Dalle attempting to act normal. There are hidden reserves of sadness in her rampaging-psycho performance, too — volumes are conveyed by the way she swats a meant-to-be-consoling male hand off her knee. Kindness is not hers to give or receive, not any more.
I cannot accurately say I “enjoyed” À l’intérieur — even at its abbreviated length it can be an endurance test, and I can’t say I was sorry it was over. Yet I give it five stars, because it is a horror movie, and it horrifies. It does its work without the slightest compromise or mercy. And it gives us, in the frightening person of Béatrice Dalle, the most stubbornly memorable and bizarrely human screen psycho in quite some time.