If you want a surefire way to piss off your not-as-horror-loving spouse, load up Inside (French: ¿ l'intÈrieur) on December 24th and say it's a Christmas movie. For added bonus, let the day's activities leave you susceptible to dozing off, leaving him or her to watch this brutal and terrifying French home invasion film on their own when the only red they wanted to see was on Rudolph's nose. This actually happened 4-5 years ago, by the way - my wife got about as far as Sarah (Alysson Paradis) being trapped in her bathroom with "La femme/The Woman" (an award-worthy Beatrice Dalle) banging loudly on the door before storming out of the room, which had the positive effect of waking me up (heh) and scrambling to find something more pleasant while there was still time to ensure I didn't HAVE to sleep on that couch.
Last year I mixed it into a full day of Christmas viewing (otherwise much safer choices like Gremlins, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, Elf, Frosty the Snowman, and the first Christmas episode of Community), waiting until my poor wife wanted to go bake before turning it on, minimizing her exposure to its decidedly non festive narrative. In her defense, it's not much of a Christmas movie; there are some decorations and they make a note of it being a potential issue (it takes place on Christmas Eve; our heroine is due to have her child the next day), but otherwise directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo take a page from Halloween and keep the holiday element in check, unlike Silent Night Deadly Night or Black Xmas (the remake; it's not a better movie, but any 30 seconds from the 2006 one is more "Christmas-y" than the entire original film) which never let you forget what day it is. Inside could work just as well if it was set on April 10th*, but I won't let that get in the way of trying to time my viewings to the season.
However, I don't watch it all that often. I love it (it was easily my favorite horror film of 2007, and a frontrunner for one of my favorites of the entire decade), but it's not an easy film to watch. It's only a mere 82 minutes with credits, but I'd say a normal viewer would spend 65 of them being emotionally drained (right from the first scene!) or just plain horrified by the constant barrage of terror faced by Sarah in her own home. After losing her husband in a violent auto accident (the mangled wiper flopping back and forth over a completely destroyed windshield is such a wonderful little touch), Sarah is about to experience the birth of her child without the aid of its father, which would be a terrible enough situation for a woman. But it's nothing compared to what she faces when The Woman comes knocking, demanding to get inside (spoiler: she does, though the title has more than one meaning) and seemingly intent on taking the baby with her - even if she has to take a pair of scissors to Sarah's belly to get it. You know a movie is horrific when something happens that you're sure is a nightmare scene, only for your heart to sink when you realize that it is most certainly real.
Obviously one woman trying to kill another in one house wouldn't be enough for a full length movie, so there are some diversions, all of which end badly for the visitors. Sarah's boss and her mother come by to check on her, as do some police (with a perp in tow) who are responding to the disturbance. Some of these scenes are a distraction (there's a bit with one of the cops that nearly derails the movie in its final reel), but it keeps up the relentless intensity the movie offers, not to mention the grue - in terms of how much fake blood is on-screen at once, this might be one of the goriest movies ever made. Indeed, a full seven minutes were cut from its unrated version to get the R - that's nearly 10% of the entire movie! I can deal with a cut version of Silent Night Deadly Night or something, but not in this case - I look at the R rated cut of this movie the same way I look at the John Russo-mangled "30th Anniversary Edition" of Night of the Living Dead: a blight on the world that should be destroyed from existence.
One thing I really love about the film is that it's actually scary and even kind of moving at times. It's easy to forget thanks to the horrific violence (mostly directed at a very pregnant lady, mind you - not an easy thing to stomach), but Maury and Bustillo were more influenced by John Carpenter than anyone else - here's a "oh shit she's right behind her" slow reveal scare that's just as effective as the famous "Michael fades in" shot from the original Halloween. Not to mention the early scenes, where La Femme is lurking outside of the house, which are as unnerving as any top scene from your favorite home invasion film, and the cat and mouse sequences in the film's back half are more Wait Until Dark than Saw V. As with High Tension or Ils (Them), suspense and tension are just as important as the violence, unlike some other French flicks like Frontier(s), which mostly gear toward the latter. But none of them (well, maybe Martyrs if you can get on board with it) actually invoke the sort of emotional wallop that this provides; there's an incredibly sad scene where Sarah looks at photos of her husband and imagines him there, rubbing her belly as he caresses her - only to be snapped out of it with a painful memory of his demise. And once we understand a bit more about The Woman, the movie becomes even more unexpectedly touching, resulting in an denouement that is as sweet as it is tragic.
Besides the aforementioned silly bit with the cop (it seriously seems to turn into a zombie movie for a few seconds), there's really only one significant flaw in the film. The producers - without consent or even knowledge from the filmmakers - added some pretty terrible CGI shots of the baby in the womb, reacting to the various acts going on outside (i.e. being slammed into a wall or whatever). They're not dealbreakers, but you'd have to be insane to think they add anything to the movie beyond cheap stings at best and unintentional comedy at worst; as much as I abhor the 75 minute version of the movie, I'd welcome one that removed the "baby-cam" shots and presented it as the directors intended. Though I have to laugh at the minor irony; the producers in question were NOT the Weinsteins, who bought the film (and their followup, Livide) for US distribution - Harvey and Bob must have been pissed that someone had beat them to the punch at mangling a filmmaker's vision.
Speaking of Livide, it's a shame that it's the only film they've completed in the 6+ years since Inside made its debut at Cannes. It's an enjoyable enough sophomore effort (and reunites them with Dalle), but it's got some serious flaws, and with the Weinsteins seemingly sitting on it forever (they picked it up 2 years ago and have yet to even hint at a release date), it's just going to be even more disappointing as Inside fans wait longer and longer to see their followup. The pair is currently in post on a 3rd film (Among the Living, once again featuring Dalle), but who knows when we will get a chance to see that - it's likely that their contribution to ABCs Of Death 2 will be the first piece of work from this promising team that a general audience will get to see in six years (closer to seven by the time ABCs 2 is out).
Needless to say, if you have yet to see Inside for yourself, I highly encourage you do so. It's not essential to watch at Christmas like some other "holiday horror" classics, but it's certainly one of the more inspired choices you can make. Thankfully, the R-rated cut was mostly confined to Blockbuster (RIP), so finding the proper unrated one (which, again, should run 82 minutes, not 75) shouldn't be difficult. It's a top notch entry for both the French horror and home invasion sub-genres - the fact that it can technically be counted among the holiday selections is a sweet bonus. Merry Christmas!
*No-prize to anyone who can correctly identify why I chose that date in particular.