Here is the plot of the 2007 French film, INSIDE : Sarah is a woman about to give birth after surviving a horrific car accident that ended the life of her husband. Throughout the first act of INSIDE, we get to know Sarah a little better. She is moody and cold to her mother on the phone, as well as dismissive toward the nurses at the hospital she goes to for her check-ups. It’s during those check-ups that Sarah is shown as being emotionless during the reveal of her child’s ultrasound. When she looks at pictures of her with her now-deceased husband, Sarah looks at them forlornly, thinking about the life she used to have, and lamenting the life she has now. When we are with Sarah in these moments, we feel a sense of resentfulness coming from her, not only toward her situation, but toward her unborn child as well. In a film full of uneasy scenes, these are some of the hardest moments to watch, and they test the audience’s sympathy for the film’s protagonist early on. But it’s these moments that mark a meaningful starting point for Sarah and her character arc throughout the rest of INSIDE.
I guess I ‘ll just spoil the rest of the original movie now. It’s over ten years old. You should watch it if you haven’t though. But here’s the gist of what happens: It turns out that the woman on the other end of the car wreck, La Femme, has tracked Sarah down and is going to steal her unborn child from her by any means necessary. As the rest of the film unfolds, we watch as Sarah fights back against her relentless attacker, gaining a feeling of love and a need to protect her unborn child. Both women will now go to any length to make sure that the baby survives. I guess I won’t spoil the end of it, but the journey of Sarah from uncaring mother to a woman willing to do anything for her child is at the heart of the original INSIDE. Here’s what the 2018 American remake is about:
Sarah is a pregnant woman involved in a car crash that kills her husband. She and her baby survive the crash, but now she’s pretty sad about the loss of her husband. She mopes around most days, just kind of wandering through life in a malaise. Oh, she’s also hard of hearing, and she is a photographer. One day a woman breaks into her house and attacks her because she wants to take her unborn child. Sarah fights back against the lady, so that the baby doesn’t die.
The skeleton of the original French film is still present within the American remake, but there are key aspects that feel watered down, and the piece of INSIDE that feels like it’s missing the most is within the character of Sarah. INSIDE 2018 retains much of the original–the basic plot, and the violence are all still there– but for whatever reason, the filmmakers decided to sand down edges of the film’s main character. I would assume it’s because those involved believe that it makes Sarah more likable, or relatable, but in actuality it makes the character, and the movie, far less interesting.
Whether or not a character needs to have an arc is an entirely separate argument for another day, but I prefer it when a character has one. And, to be fair, the character of Sarah does have an arc in the American version of INSIDE, it’s just not a very interesting one. Especially when put side-by-side with the emotional journey the character takes in the original version. So much is made of the violence in many of the films of the “New French Extremity” wave of the 2000’s, but that violence is there to serve the characters in them, and that is especially true with INSIDE. By starting Sarah at her lowest point—about to give birth to a child that she doesn’t want or believe she can handle on her own following the death of her husband, and making that explicitly clear in the language of the film–the odds that she has to overcome, and the violence she has to endure to get to where she is at the end of the film, make it all the more impactful. Watering those character traits down leaves the film telling an incredibly basic story. Of course Sarah wants the baby to not die. Of course she’ll do anything to save it. But what is she fighting for? Basic survival, or something deeper? In the American version, it becomes a story of basic survival, and in doing so feels like a film going through the motions, wandering in a malaise from Point A to Point B much like it’s main character.
It’s too bad, because there is talent involved in the film, both behind and in front of the camera. Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas (KIDNAPPED, EXTINCTION), the film is stylish, and there are a few shots and flourishes that make you sit up and take notice. But, much of what works in INSIDE 2018 is surface-level. A shot midway through the movie of the silhouette of Harring’s character illuminated behind an unsuspecting victim may jolt you in the moment, but that feeling is fleeting, as there isn’t anything to latch onto after it.
That’s not necessarily the fault of the performers. They’re both good. Or as good as they can be with what they are given. Rachel Nichols is affable, despite Sarah not having much depth, and I actually enjoyed Laura Harring’s performance as the “The Woman”. I’ve seen some people claim she looks bored in it, and she might be, I don’t know, but that’s even more unsettling to me. A woman going to the lengths that her character goes to and looking bored while doing it is super creepy. So, good acting choice? Maybe?
Unfortunately INSIDE is the worst kind of re-make; one that never finds a reason to exist. INSIDE 2018 grinds down the characters into dull cardboard, and removes so much about what makes the original work, and it’s not the violence. The “extreme” violence present in the original film is in service of the character’s journey, and that’s what’s missing most from the American re-make: A journey.