INSIDE (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: NC-17 for Strong Bloody Violence, Gruesome and Disturbing Content, and Language

(French with English subtitles)

Directed by: Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo

Written by: Alexandre Bustillo

Starring: Alysson Paradis, Beatrice Dalle, Nathalie Roussel, Francois-Regis Marchasson & Jean-Baptiste Marchasson

Throughout the 2000s, French cinema underwent a radical movement known as “New French Extremity.” This cinematic movement featured filmmakers tackling dark, disturbing subject matter and then pushing it as far as they possibly could. The 2000s wave of transgressive cinema had plenty of dark dramas, but also left its mark with gore-soaked horror films. While the best of these French Extreme horror flicks is easily MARTYRS, I would argue that the second-best is home-invasion horror flick INSIDE. This movie is vicious. brutal and unforgettable.

After surviving a traumatic car accident that left her face scarred and her husband dead, very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is miraculously one day away from giving birth to her baby. However, the mother-to-be soon finds herself in a night from hell when a crazy woman (Beatrice Dalle) breaks into her home. The menacing stranger wants the unborn baby inside of Sarah’s belly and will employ extreme means to get it. Her weapon of choice is a large, razor-sharp pair of scissors. A bloody struggle ensues between Sarah and the woman. As more people arrive at the house, more bodies begin to pile up.

To put it lightly, INSIDE is a brutal viewing experience. This is one of the goriest films I’ve sat through and also one of the most disturbing movies ever made. This is not happy entertainment, but it’s an intensely suspenseful and terrifying near-masterpiece of horror. You’ll likely want to avoid this film if you’re pregnant and I mean that in the nicest way possible. As a man who is incapable of carrying a child in my body, I was petrified and wincing at every cut/stab/slice. There’s one particular moment that always makes me grab my gut every single time I see it and it’s pure nightmare fuel. I can hardly imagine what an expecting mother might feel while watching this movie. INSIDE knows how to crawl under your skin and chill your blood. It does this for almost the entirety of its brief 82-minute running time.

The realistic gore and intense scenario wouldn’t hold up if there wasn’t a genuine talent behind the camera. Luckily, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo crafted this film in a classy way that only elevates its vicious impact. The cinematography is professional and beautiful, even when a white bathroom becomes stained with crimson bodily fluid. Bustillo’s screenplay also invites logical excuses for people to enter the house and quickly escalates scenarios in a mostly believable fashion. There’s one shocker of a scene early-on that left me floored and showed this movie wasn’t messing around. INSIDE is here to brutalize its viewer and masterfully succeeds in doing so.

The two main performances belong to Alysson Paradis and Beatrice Dalle. Paradis serves as the bloodied and battered protagonist, who’s trying to stay alive and save the life of her unborn child. Though Paradis’s Sarah has understandable moments of shell-shock and tearful breakdowns, she also has badass heroine bits in which she fights back with whatever is around her. Beatrice Dalle is intimidating as the mysterious woman who wants to cut Sarah open. Dalle does menacing like nobody’s business and comes off like a ferocious animal in many scenes. The tension between Paradis and Dalle’s performances only further push the suspense to an almost unbearable level.

Though it’s beyond stellar in many ways, INSIDE has three hiccups that keep it from horrific perfection. The first of these are frequent scenes of a CGI baby in Sarah’s womb. One of these serves as the opening shot of the film and others occasionally makes their way into tense confrontations. These bits distracted from the live-action struggle at hand and didn’t look nearly as professional as the rest of the film. The second problem comes in the arrival of a cop and a criminal. While their initial introduction is solid, these two make ineptly idiotic mistakes like fumbling with a flashlight and searching for bandages…while they should be escorting Sarah straight out of the house. Finally, there’s one moment in the final 15 minutes that feels oddly out-of-place. I won’t spoil it, but you’ll know it when you see it.

Handful of flaws aside, INSIDE is one hell of a horror movie. This film doesn’t milk its darker-than-dark scenario purely for shock value, but is legitimately well made and builds a thick layer of suspense that is sure to make the viewer uneasy. INSIDE also goes to extremely nightmarish places that other scary movies wouldn’t dare touch. The final minutes will likely leave you stunned and are sure make a lasting impact on your movie memories. If you think you can handle it, I highly recommend INSIDE. Just be warned, this film isn’t for the faint of heart or those with weak stomachs.

Grade: A-

LIVID (2011)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(French with English subtitles)

Livid poster

Directed by: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury

Written by: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury

Starring: Chloe Coulloud, Jeremy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Felix Moati, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Chloe Marcq & Beatrice Dalle

Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are a pair of filmmakers who burst onto the horror scene with their terrifying home-invasion flick INSIDE. That gory tour-de-force of a slasher film floored audiences and has since gotten an appropriately notorious reputation around it. Bustillo and Maury followed that movie up with LIVID, which premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and has gathered dust on the Weinstein Company’s shelf ever since. Supposedly, there is an English-language remake in the works. So while this movie has been released in other countries (including the UK, where I imported a Region 2 copy from), American horror fans have been impatiently twiddling their thumbs. This is a pretty screwed up and frustrating scenario. While I do want this movie to see the light of day in the US as it should (and eventually will), I’m not exactly opposed to a remake of LIVID. This fantasy-horror film plays out like a Guillermo Del Toro dark fairy tale in the vein of Dario Argento. However, it gets too ambitious for its own good and lacks a fully developed script.

Livid 1

Lucy is a young caregiver and has just completed her first day on the job. One patient sticks out from her first shift. That patient is Madame Jessel, a feeble comatose woman hooked on life support in her massive, isolated mansion. Rumor has it that a valuable treasure lies within the walls of Jessel’s vast estate. Overcome with the possibility of untold riches, Lucy and her two friends break into the spooky mansion on Halloween night…only to discover that the comatose patient may not be the house’s only occupant. The trio soon find themselves locked in the massive, creepy home and dealing with blood-thirsty forces they never could have imagined.

Livid 2

LIVID is an extremely well-shot and well-scored film. There’s atmosphere coming out the wazoo. This movie captures the eerie, magical feeling that only Halloween can provide. Though INSIDE was also a very well-shot and constructed movie, LIVID has it beat in its visuals. There’s grotesque beauty in every corner. The mansion becomes a suffocating location, despite being three or four stories tall. The soundtrack is also excellent, capturing a sense of wonder and creepiness. This music reminded me a lot of the soundtrack from CORALINE, which has a similar atmosphere (even if it’s technically a more kid-friendly film). It’s in the story and pacing that LIVID shows its flaws. There are lots of fantastic, intriguing ideas that play out like the rough draft of a far better, more accomplished script.

Livid 3

Lucy, played by the relatively unknown Chloe Coulloud, is the only character who feels remotely fleshed out. As our protagonist, she’s a sympathetic person and I found myself rooting for her, in spite of her stupid mistakes. Her two asshole friends are not nearly carved out to the degree she is. These two felt like your average, everyday slasher victims. Seeing as that’s the case, they are unsympathetic idiots who make really stupid clichéd decisions along the way. Finally, there’s Beatrice Dalle (who served as the terrifying antagonist in INSIDE) in a dual role. She plays both the elderly Jessel (under layers of make-up) and Lucy’s deceased mother (in two unneeded hallucinations). In the first role, Dalle is appropriately menacing. In the second, she feels unneeded. Not all of these characters live to see the light of day and sadly, the kills are nothing spectacular.

Livid 4

The script for LIVID certainly has a number of interesting ideas, but the problem is that these don’t flow well together. This story starts off like a haunted house movie and turns into something else entirely before becoming a sort of morbid fairy tale. The pacing doesn’t help matters either as it takes 30 minutes for the characters to actually get trapped inside the mansion. That opening third isn’t particularly interesting or entertaining when Lucy’s two friends enter the picture. The story becomes increasingly over-the-top and silly as it reaches an anti-climactic conclusion that I could see coming off as unintentionally funny to a number of people. There’s a difference between nightmare logic and lazy screenwriting. This felt very much like the latter.

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LIVID marks one of the few times that I’m actually hoping for an American remake to improve on the foreign predecessor. The soundtrack, atmosphere and visuals are all great. So much so, that I wish they had been placed in a far better film. Aside from Lucy, no attempt is made to flesh these characters out, especially the underdeveloped villains (who only get two brief flashbacks that come off as cheesy and convoluted). LIVID could greatly benefit from a remake and hopefully will. I’m sure this film will receive an official US release at some point (probably as a bonus disc on the eventual remake’s home video release), but don’t get your hopes up before you sit through it. There are beautiful visuals and a haunting soundtrack, but not much else to make it worthwhile.

Grade: C+

ABCS OF DEATH 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

ABCDeath2 poster

Directed by, Written by, and Starring: Too many to list

In 2013, THE ABCS OF DEATH was released and underwhelmed nearly everyone it came across. The film was a severely mixed bag with far more misses than hits. There were definite standouts (Dogfight, Libido, Unearthed, XXL). However, much of the massive anthology suffered from lots of Asian shorts that veered into WTF territory rather than all out horror stories among other problems. When a sequel was announced, horror fans had reasons to be skeptical. Many of the directors were newcomers with a handful of short films to their names and the trailer looked iffy. Thankfully, ABCS OF DEATH 2 is a huge step-up in quality from the first film in the same way that V/H/S/2 beat V/H/S! This is a creepy epic horror anthology that has a whole lot of dark humor, fun, and scares packed into a massive package. It’s well worth your time this Halloween season! Below are my brief thoughts and a grade for each of the 26 short films (I promise there are no spoilers!), then an overall grade for the film as a whole…

ABCDeath2 A

A is for AMATEUR: E.L. Katz (CHEAP THRILLS) starts things off strong in this darkly comic segment about a hitman with a vision. Unfortunately, his vision and reality are two entirely separate things. I laughed pretty hard at the grisly punchline and didn’t completely guess where it was heading. B+

ABCDeath2 B

B is for BADGER: A cocky documentary host is doing a special about how rare badgers have gone extinct due to a nuclear power plant…only to get a nasty surprise. More dark comedy with some gore in this second segment. It’s clear that most of the budget went into an effect used near the end and we never fully get a glimpse of what causes this bloody display, but it’s great fun indeed. B

ABCDeath2 C

C is for CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: A suspected killer is put in a tough situation when his small town decides to take matters into their own hands as opposed to calling the proper authorities. Needless to say that the situation will get messy. There was a neat little twist on this short, but it tries to have a profound underlying message that just didn’t work too well for me. B-

ABCDeath2 D

D is for DELOUSED: An animated segment that uses nightmare logic with a couple of cool visuals, but ultimately comes off as a bad WTF short. It almost felt like a student film that had snuck its way into this anthology. D

ABCDeath2 E

E is for EQUILIBRIUM: Two castaways on a desert island find their routines and friendships threatened when a woman washes ashore. This segment excelled in what A and B managed to pull off so well. It’s quick, to the point, and very funny. B

ABCDeath2 F

F is for FALLING: Directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (BIG BAD WOLVES) pull off one of the better segments in this simple short about a parachuting soldier stuck in a tree and an unlikely good Samaritan. Seeing as this is a horror anthology, it goes without saying that things don’t end well for anybody involved. Professionally shot and tightly scripted. I dug this letter a lot. A

ABCDeath2 G

G is for GRANDAD: A snobby punk is staying with his grandpa and making the old man’s life a living hell. Things get real weird, real fast. By weird, I mean stupid. Nothing jives well in this short and it feels like it’s trying too hard to be silly. This is an awful segment that makes me wonder what Jim Hosking was thinking. D-

ABCDeath2 H

H is for HEAD GAMES: The best thing I can say about this letter is that it doesn’t last very long. An animated couple start making out and it quickly turns into a war of the sexes where body parts in their head are weapons. It’s as out-of-place as it sounds and doesn’t elicit any positive reaction. D

ABCDeath2 I

I is for INVINCIBLE: A group of four siblings are trying to kill their ridiculously old mother who doesn’t seem to die. This segment was fairly predictable as soon as a certain plot device reared its head, but the style it was executed in looked great. The sets, make-up, and cinematography milked the low-budget for all it was worth. It’s not good story-wise, but looks really solid visually. C+

ABCDeath2 J

J is for JESUS: I have mixed feelings on this one. The story is about a man who’s kidnapped by his religious zealot father who wants to rid him of a “demon” with the most barbaric exorcism possible. I liked the overall conclusion of this short and dig on the message behind it, but it revels a little too long in the torture-porn aspect and the execution of gore near the ending sends a few mixed messages. C

ABCDeath2 K

K is for KNELL: A woman goes out onto her apartment balcony and sees something she can’t explain. From there on, the short becomes a waking nightmare of Lovecraftian horror. Nothing is fully explained, nor does it need to be. I was beyond creeped out and this is an instant winner. It kind of makes me wish directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper will go off and produce a feature of this. Absolutely loved this letter. A+

ABCDeath2 L

L is for LEGACY: An African tribesman is taken away from his village to be sacrificed by his father. Without a shred of a doubt, this is the worst segment and features some of the worst special effects I’ve seen in my entire life (both practical and CGI). To make matters even more painful, the story is playing itself so straight-faced that you can’t even gain some unintentional laugher from it. L is downright incomprehensible. F

ABCDeath2 M

M is for MASTICATE: Winner of the letter M fan contest and for good reason, this awesomely constructed segment is all around great. It begins as a fairly standard short featuring a monster that has become overused in recent years, but is shot particularly well. The final seconds sell the entire thing as darkly hilarious and one of the best shorts here! A+

ABCDeath2 N

N is for NEXUS: A man dressed as Frankenstein is trying to make his way across busy city streets to meet up with his Bride of Frankenstein date. This short was fairly predictable, but director Larry Fessenden still managed to get up some solid tension even when the short pretty much spells out how and why the death is going to occur. It also goes slightly darker than I originally expected as well. B

ABCDeath2 O

O is for OCHLOCRACY: This one plays out almost like a condensed TWILIGHT ZONE episode. It gives a brief glimpse of a future that has survived the zombie apocalypse and zombies are putting humans that allegedly murdered them on trial. There are a couple of clever moments, a few dodgy effects, and an underwhelming conclusion. However, I thought this was a decent short film with some big ideas. B

ABCDeath2 P

P is for P-P-P-P SCARY!: Sort of a THREE STOOGES entry in this anthology (right down to the slapstick and over-the-top acting). This one has all style but no substance. It lacks in giving us what the title of this movie promises: a solid death. C-

ABCDeath2 Q

Q is for QUESTIONAIRE: A man takes an intelligence test with freaky consequences. I really liked this one a lot. It was goofy, but also kind of creepy in a few instances. There was a solid editing in the storytelling that cuts between his questionnaire and his results already in progress. In some ways, it seemed to be homage to 1966’s SECONDS. The final image of the segment is a little too out-there, but I dug it overall. B+

ABCDeath2 R

R is for ROULETTE: An intense game of Russian Roulette with a nifty twist. Need I say more? I didn’t think so. A

ABCDeath2 S

S is for SPLIT: A phone call between husband and wife takes a dark turn when a stranger arrives at her door. Told through multiple split screens, this letter took me through an unexpected story. I thought I had figured things out long before the short had concluded, but was dead wrong (pun, get it?). Really solid short! A-

ABCDeath2 T

T is for TORTURE PORN: Oh, Jen and Sylvia Soska (AMERICAN MARY), what have ye wrought? T plays out like a truncated version of the AMATEUR NIGHT story from V/H/S. It feels exploitative and tired, but with the added bonus of nearly seizure-inducing flashing lights. Pass up on this segment. F

ABCDeath2 U

U is for UTOPIA: Vincenzo Natali (CUBE and SPLICE) delivers an eerie little piece of science fiction with this glimpse into a seemingly perfect future. Told without much dialogue at all and delivering a message as subtle as a sledgehammer, U is pretty awesome. This idea could easily be fleshed out into a feature-length story, but also serves just fine as a creative few minutes. A

ABCDeath2 V

V is for VACATION: Another great entry! Disturbing, dark, and a swift kick to the senses. This little piece of found footage chronicles a video call between a guy and his girlfriend that takes a very wrong turn…and keeps taking more wrong turns. It’s fast, vicious, and very freaky in the sense that only real world horror can be. A-

A005_C061_0922Y2

W is for WISH: Two brothers wish to be inside the world of their action figures and that wish comes true in a horrifying way. Easily one of the most creative and fun of the bunch, WISH also sports a very nasty mean streak in terms of its dark humor. It might turn some people off, but I had a blast watching this one. I’ll go as far as saying its one of the very best shorts in this sequel! A+

ABCDeath2 X

X is for XYLOPHONE: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (INSIDE and LIVID) actually got a vocal “Holy Shit!” out of me at the end of this short. It’s grim and the story is so simple that even summing it up in a sentence might give away too much. Suffice to say, that this is one hell of a disturbing short film! A

Y is for YOUTH: A flawed but very cool look into the mind of an imaginative teenage girl stuck between her two bickering parents. We see inside her consciousness and this supplies an excuse for a lot of surreal imagery. However, sometimes it can get a little too silly for the emotional impact it’s trying to land. It still winds up being good, but not quite as good as it wants to be. B

ABCDeath2 Z

Z is for ZYGOTE: I’m thanking Chris Nash for the nightmares! This final segment is the best one in the anthology. It definitely goes off on a high note with this body-horror tale about a woman whose pregnancy doesn’t quite go as well as she hoped. That’s putting it lightly. This short was wrong on so many levels. It’s disgusting, arguably the goriest one, and features a very twisted conclusion. That’s exactly why I love it so much! A+

ABCDeath2 Overall

There are a few stinkers (G, L, and T), but a whole lot of real winners as well (the best being F, K, M, R, U, W, X and Z). This second anthology takes a little while to get fully going, but not nearly to the degree that the first film took. There’s also a solid streak of six shorts that range from good to the best one of the bunch to close everything off on a truly creepy note. Believe it or not, ABCS OF DEATH 2 is a massive improvement over the first film. It seems that nearly everyone learned from the mistakes and complaints of the original. If you’re up for two hours of mostly solid short horror films, then sit down and enjoy this second round of deaths in alphabetical order!

Grade: B

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