When it comes to horror, the French really know how to take it to the next level. In the mid to late 2000's, the most impactful horror flicks of the decade were coming out of France. Films like Calvaire, High Tension, Inside, and Martyrs exploded onto the scene and left quite a lasting impression on the genre.
At that time, I was devouring anything and everything extreme I could get my hands on, so I first saw Inside pretty much as soon as it was available in the US. It was not easy to watch, but I enjoyed it. As with most brutal horror films, I did not feel a need to explore it second time.
Until I got unexpectedly pregnant.
Now, I'm sure it's seems a little odd that I would want to watch a film full of violence against a pregnant woman at such a time. There's not room in this blog to figure out that psychology, just suffice to say that horror movies have always been a comfort to me. You see, I was upset about being pregnant. Not just upset, but devastated. It's not something my husband and I ever really wanted or planned on. This won't make sense to most people, but if you're of the rare breed that just doesn't want kids, you'll understand.
For whatever reason, I ended up NOT watching it again at that time. That was probably for the best, because a few weeks after I found out I was pregnant I began to have symptoms of a miscarriage. It was during this ordeal that I really began to understand how much physical AND emotional stress and pain female bodies go through when it comes to reproduction. Honestly, it's a miracle that we choose to do it at all.
My experiences during this time eventually led me back to the story and themes presented in Inside. The first time I watched it in 2007, it was just a movie. But by the end of 2013, I began to see it as something more. As far as I know, it was written and directed by men. I don't know if any of this was intentional, but they pretty much nailed the dark side of pregnancy and childbirth.
I've now come to understand Inside as a metaphor for the raw human experience of childbirth, and more specifically the devastation of losing a pregnancy to miscarriage or still birth.
Before I get into specifics, let me give a little disclaimer. If you are not a seasoned horror fan who can handle intense violence, do not watch this film. You will not enjoy it. And you might not want to be my friend anymore. Also, spoilers. Now that's done - on with the show!
Inside packs a punch right from the start. The opening scene shows Sarah and her husband in the aftermath of a horrific car crash. Her husband is killed, but she and the unborn child are spared. She is due to give birth on Christmas day, but the night before a stranger shows up at her door. And it's clear right from the start that this strange Woman in Black wants to take her baby.
Pregnancy is mostly a welcome, positive event. Even if it isn't planned, it is generally regarded as one of the happiest and most important experiences in a person's life. However, it is also an intrusion, and sometimes even a violation to a woman's body. Pregnancy imposes it's will upon you and there's nothing you can do about it but deal with it. By the time delivery happens, most women are more than happy to get this person OUT of their body, by any means necessary.
The Woman in Black shows up on Sarah's doorstep much in the same way. For better or worse, she is a force to be reckoned with and Sarah must endure and react to whatever this visitor chooses to subject her to. Several people throughout the story get involved to offer advice and try to help, but ultimately Sarah has to step up and just take care of the thing herself. Suck it up and push, honey.
It's no secret that the female reproductive cycle is a messy affair. Women become familiar with blood and pain from an early age, and childbirth takes that experience to the next level.
"It is women who bear the race in bloody agony. Suffering is a kind of horror. Blood is a kind of horror. Women are born with horror in their very bloodstream. It is a biological thing." Bela Lugosi
The Woman uses a pair of scissors to repeatedly attack Sarah. She wounds her several times, and the stress of her initial attack causes Sarah's water to break. We can only imagine the things her body is going through internally as she tries to defend herself from the external threat who has already done so much damage. The ugly, outward violence inflicted upon Sarah by the Woman is a reflection of what is going on inside Sarah's body as it prepares to deliver the child. There is literally blood (and screaming) everywhere.
There is also an unpredictable quality to the violence. The audience is never really sure what the Woman's next move will be. Or how Sarah will handle it. I have not personally experienced childbirth, but I can tell you first hand that this fear and confusion is an accurate representation of what menstruation and miscarriage look like for alot of women. How long will this process last? How much pain will I have to suffer? When will it be over? Will there be any permanent damage? Listen Sarah, we are all right there with you in that bloody bathroom.
Childbirth has always been somewhat dangerous. Before modern medicine, it was entirely possible that simply delivering a baby would literally kill you (again, lots of blood and screaming). It's the simple and stark balance of life and death. As one generation is born, another passes.
About halfway through Inside, Sarah's mother shows up to check on her and we hope for the best. But Sarah, prepared to fight for the life of her unborn child, mistakes her mother for the Woman and accidentally kills her. The mother meets her end at the hand of the child. As one generation is born, another passes.
Towards the end, it is revealed that the Woman was involved in the initial car crash with Sarah, and her own unborn child was killed in the accident.
The Woman: You can kill me again, Sarah. You already did once.
Sarah: They told me that there were no survivors.
We now understand WHY the Woman wants Sarah's child so badly. However, her strength and determination are almost supernatural. She sustains many injuries to her own body, but seems unconcerned with it. She simply charges forward, hellbent on completing her mission.
Of course, we want to see Sarah survive this horrific struggle and save her child. But much like real life, this story doesn't have a happy ending. When it's time for the baby to come, Sarah is unable to deliver on her own and the Woman performs a c-section with her trusty scissors (an instrument of both life and death, it turns out). Of course this makeshift surgery kills Sarah, and delivers the child into the hands of the Woman in Black.
Her supernatural strength and inevitable victory lead me to believe that the Woman in Black is actually DEATH, and has come to claim Sarah and the child who were supposed to die in the car accident.
At the beginning of the film, a nosy nurse tells Sarah the story of her first experience with childbirth.
Nurse: It's horrible, the first kid. In my own case it took 13 hours to deliver it. Oh murder, I mean murder. I was in such pain. He put me through all that, but...he was born dead.
It's a foreshadowing of what's to come, and unfortunately a familiar scenario for the many women who experience the loss of a unborn child. It's a bleak story, but a true one. A human one. A story that is not easy to tell, and not easy to bear. But it's a story worth telling, because those who have not experienced it cannot fully understand.
But if they can experience a story that presents unrelenting brutality and raw emotion, maybe they will begin to.
Banner Image | The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck