There’s no doubt that remakes of beloved horror films are treated with a fair amount of scrutiny and disdain. For every The Hills Have Eyes (2006), there are two or three The Amityville Horror‘s (2005) or The Town That Dreaded Sundown‘s (2014).

Remakes of foreign horror films typically fare even worse. Films with unique cultural sensitivities, pacing and visual aesthetics are typically reduced to basic plots and emerge as pale imitations of themselves, stripped of any offensive or interesting qualities in an effort to appease North American audiences. This is a broad generalization, but a cursory glance at the entirety of the US J-Horror remake fad reinforces this argument. Aside from Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002), pretty much every redo falls somewhere between bad and unwatchable.

French Extremity is its own unique beast. More of a movement than a true national output, this mix of arthouse and horror films took the festival circuit by storm in the mid-2000s, resulting in instant (albeit still under seen) classics like Calvaire (2004), Martyrs (2008), Ils/Them (2006) and, my personal favourite, A L’interieur/Inside (2007). These films share a penchant for stripped down narratives filled with nihilism and incredibly brutal, visceral goriness. They often produce extremely strong love/hate reactions in audiences and are frequently described as “hard watches” by people who aren’t comfortable with gore.

Interestingly, only Martyrs has been adapted in the US* and anyone who has seen the 2015 US version knows that French Extremity is not easily reproduced. That film is a misguided disaster, suggesting (as usual) that it is better to import the original, subtitles and all, rather than try to recapture magic in a bottle. Enter into this discussion the long-delayed remake of Inside (made in 2016 and released 2018).

 

*An argument can be made that 2008’s The Strangers is an adaptation of Them, but in reality they simply share similar plot devices.

Both versions of Inside tell the story of a pregnant woman, attacked by a mysterious woman who is after her baby. In the US version, the pregnant woman is Sarah Clark (Rachel Nichols) and her unnamed assailant, listed only as The Woman in the credits, is played by Laura Harring. Like The Strangers, the rationale for selecting Sarah remains a dangling plot thread throughout the film; it is little more than an afterthought when there are knives, exacto blades and toilet seats to contend with.

For those who haven’t seen the original (and this is likely the majority of viewers), Inside is a perfectly serviceable home invasion thriller. Like a lot of horror films, Inside opens with a tragic cold open: Sarah loses her husband in a terrible car accident that also leaves her partially deaf. Screenwriter Manu Díez makes her hearing aid an integral component of the film, using Sarah‘s inability to hear crucial to several major action sequences. Sarah has also recently had an injection to help induce labour, which puts her at a distinct disadvantage at several times in the film. As played by Nichols, Sarah is a likeable, albeit relatively reactive heroine – she frequently locks herself in the bathroom rather than fighting back or trying to escape from The Woman‘s rampage.

 

Laura Harring in Inside (2016)
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Laura Harring fares less well, adopting a deranged housewife persona (complete with soothing motherly vocal cues) that don’t entirely mesh with her nearly supernatural ability to fell any opponent. Part of the problem is that the character herself is a blank cipher, driven solely by her compulsion for Sarah‘s unborn baby. The other issue is that director Miguel Ángel Vivas stages every violent encounter as though The Woman is battling people made of butter: knives and other sharp objects glide into backs, necks and heads with the greatest of (unbelievable) ease.

 

Still, these are easily forgivable issues if they’re made up for in violence and tension. Unfortunately this is where Inside falters. Not only is the violence extremely predictable (save one early unexpected encounter), the film is almost entirely devoid of tension. Fully two-thirds of the film takes place inside Sarah‘s house, turning the home into a warzone of domestic weapons, but the action feels strangely inert and repetitive instead of claustrophobic.

It is especially problematic how safe Sarah stays. Aside from an early head wound, she barely sustains anything more than cuts and scrapes, which subliminally reinforces that she is in virtually no danger. Even when the third act moves the action out of the house, pitting Sarah in a one-on-one showdown with The Woman out in the open, everything feels mildly antiseptic. The danger has been bleached out of the proceedings, which makes the climax in an abandoned house and surrounding yard feel underwhelming.

Rachel Nichols as Sarah in Inside (2016)
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If you’ve seen the original, this is incredibly upsetting. To say that the remake has lost all of the visceral thrill of the original is more than an understatement; the 2016 version completely undercuts the horror and power of the 2007 French version. It’s a prime example of a watered down film, afraid to put its pregnant heroine in real danger for fear of how upsetting it would be, which is exactly the point! Not only does this neutered interpretation lack guts, it lacks thrills.

If you haven’t seen the original, Inside (2016) is fine, albeit slightly predictable and a little ridiculous in its last act. If you’ve seen the original, the only reason to watch this is to satisfy your curiosity, though fair warning, you’ll spend the majority of the film comparing and critiquing the remake unfavorably.

My recommendation: stiff the 2016 version and track down the 2007 French original. That’s a viewing experience you won’t forget any time soon.

2/4 eberts