Two trends characterized horrors films in the 2000s: (1) the cycle of Hollywood remakes of 1980s slasher films and (2) the emergence of the “torture porn” subgenre. Numerous horror scholars have examined the “torture porn” cycle of horror as part of a larger societal response to 9/11 and emergent debates around torture and interrogation (Wetmore, 2012).
Across the Atlantic Ocean, in France, a new wave of horror film, a distinctly French version of “torture porn”, was gaining traction. Coined the “New French Extremity” by film critic James Quandt (2004), this diverse range of “horror films” was characterized by high levels of graphic violence with a focus on the visual destruction of the human body, inspired in part by the body horror popularized by David Cronenberg. AlexandraWest, co-host of The Faculty of Horror Blog, has written an excellent book, Films of the New French Extremity (2016), for readers interested in learning more about the subgenre.
While it took a little while, Hollywood has begun poaching from the New French Extremity, first remaking the controversial French horror film, Martyrs, a few years ago. Released in 2007, Inside or A l’interieur, one of my favourites from the subgenre, finally fell victim to the remake machine this past year. Does the remake offer audiences something new or re-contextualize the subtext for North American audiences? Does it push the boundaries of good taste even further than its predecessor? Take a look below.
Arguably one of the best illustrations of the “New French Extremity” movement, the original Inside is both an exercise in pure tension and an endurance test of viewers’ ability to stomach gut-wrenching violence. Like the best horror films, Inside rests on a simple premise – Sarah, recently widowed, is home alone on Christmas Eve, very late in her pregnancy, when a mysterious woman shows up on her doorstep intent on breaking into her home and taking her unborn child. Introspective and moody for the first third of the film, directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo expertly ratchet up the tension.
The mystery woman, or “La Femme”, played with extreme menace by Beatrice Dalle is initially kept in the shadows, with one scene cleverly evoking memories of Halloween (1978). Once the first act of violence punctuates the screen Inside becomes a boundary-pushing tour de force of brutality. Having seen this film more than once I can say that Inside loses none of its potency on repeated viewings and its climax still remains almost unwatchable, virtually requiring you to close your eyes or look away. Its ending is the equivalent of a punch to the gut. For horror fans that like their films on the intense side, Inside should be mandatory viewing.
There are a few scant examples of American remakes of European or Japanese films meeting or exceeding the expectations of their original counterparts. The Ring (2000) and Let Me In (2010) are two prime examples. Yet for every Americanized remake that succeeds on its own merits there are more examples that prove to be limp, pointless re-treads that miss what made the original resonate with audiences in the first place. The 2016 remake of Inside falls into the latter category. For the first two-thirds of its runtime, Inside follows the original almost beat-for-beat offering absolutely no re-imagining of its predecessor in any way. When the remake does decide to deviate from the original it will leave most viewers wishing they had just stayed the course.
Director Miguel Angel Vivas and a total of five credited screenwriters add a more conventional action-oriented climax with a “satisfying” ending, completely at odds with the tone of the original. The acting in the film is fine – Rachel Nichols is strong and carries the film in the central role but while Laura Harring is perfectly fine as “The Woman”, she never quite strikes the menacing tone set by Dalle from the original. Probably the greatest limitation of this remake is the choice to soften the graphic violence. This is not to say that the 2016 version of Inside is a soft PG-13 film; there is still enough bloodletting here to satisfy some horror fans. Unfortunately when you are re-making a film that is not only known for being “extreme” but exists for the sake of its own extremity, toning down the violence makes the remake a somewhat pointless endeavour.
Not surprisingly, the 2016 remake is pointless, watering down of the original simultaneously failing to offer any kind of unique commentary for North American audiences. While the original version is intensely violent and brutally unforgiving, there is also some interesting some interesting subtext for viewers to consider with the film playing against the backdrop of the Paris race riots (a subject for a future blog entry). The 2016 remake might satisfy those who aren’t interested in reading subtitles or can’t stomach too much graphic violence but even these viewers may find the film to be sluggish and dull. If you have the stomach and prefer your horror films to be raw and intense, the original Inside is the clear choice.
Quandt, J. (2004, February). Flesh & Blood: Sex and violence in recent French Cinema. Artforum. Retrieved January 26th, 2018, from https://www.artforum.com/inprint/id=6199.
Wetmore, K.J. (2012). Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema. Bloomsbury Academic.
West, A. (2016). Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity. McFarland Publishing.