One of the downsides to being a serious horror aficionado is that it's hard to find films that legitimately scare you. Over time you grow desensitized to shock, and the more you see, whether you like it or not, you memorize all the tricks in the magician's bag. There's also the sad truth that this genre attracts more than its share of incompetents with little to no imagination. But your faith in the genre keeps you panning for gold in that river of mediocrity, searching for those elusive adrenaline rushes that made you fall in love with this stuff in the first place. And once in a while, you're rewarded with something like À l'intérieur.
À l'intérieur (or Inside to the English-speaking world) is regarded as the current high-water mark of the new wave of French horror. Browse any article with a headline like "Top Horror Films of the Last Decade" (or even "Top Horror Films of All Time"), and you'll see it listed, along with the prerequisite warnings about "extreme violence" and how you should avoid watching it while pregnant. Believe me, they aren't fucking around. This is one of the most relentlessly brutal movies I've ever seen.
The premise is relatively simple: a young pregnant widow (Alysson Paradis) is spending Christmas Eve at home, when her house is invaded by a psychotic woman (Béatrice Dalle). The stranger, for whatever reason, feels that the unborn baby is actually hers, and is willing to use any number of sharp household objects to get it. The violence that follows is so vivid and visceral that it raises the film to the level of psychological assault. I like to think I'm a pretty tough guy when it comes to this stuff, but when the credits rolled, I didn't know if I should eat a salad, watch Beauty and the Beast, or go sob in the corner.
The primary function of art is to examine and explore some fundamental aspect of the human condition. In the case of horror, the aspect is fear. What do we fear? Why are we afraid of it? What can be done to overcome those fears? Inside meets this criteria by striking full-force on a universal anxiety: the vulnerability of our bodies. The directors take this concept to the extreme by telling the story through a woman in her third trimester, a point where the potential for trauma and the capacity for pain are at their zenith. This is body horror at its most effective.
Congrats, France. You just shocked me more than all the chainsaws in Texas.