When I was at FrightFest last weekend there was a movie I heard a fair bit of buzz about, playing in another screen. “Did you see ‘The Inside’?” I’d overhear people asking, as if it was a rite of passage. But when “It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting”, was the comment that came next…. well… I just hunkered down in my seat in the main screen and vowed I’d stay faithful to my cosy HH26 until the end of the festival.

But a screener copy of ‘The Inside’ tracked me down this week and today, after holding off for as long as I could, I braced myself for what the publicity copy assures is ‘a hard, violent, visceral psychological horror which gets into your belly’.

It’s a promising start. In white text on a black screen, we learn some appalling statistics about the number of people who go missing every day and the amount of witnessed crimes that go unreported. Those, in themselves, are enough to suggest a powerful concept for a horror movie. And then we’re looking at nighttime Dublin and photocopied ‘Missing’ posters on walls and lamp posts, unnoticed by passersby, with faces on them we’ll recognise in a few more moments while, in a chocolatey toned voiceover, a radio DJ warns us to be careful out there tonight because three girls recently disappeared.

“Creepy,” she purrs.

Now there’s an understatement.

Meanwhile, a man pawns a ring. The pawnbroker offers him fifty euros. The man says it’s worth four times that and pushes for a hundred. The pawnbroker goes to seventy five and he’ll throw in a suspiciously new-looking camcorder. Done deal.

If I ever pawn anything, I’m going to that guy. 

And, sitting in the takeaway and checking over his unexpected new purchase, the man discovers a film that the previous owner left inside. Wouldn’t the pawnbroker have found this when he checked the camera over? And considering the soon-to-be-revealed contents, shouldn’t the camera be in the hands of the police? Or maybe that’s what the ‘witnessed crimes that go unreported’ is all about?

Four party girls celebrate their friend’s birthday by leading her blindfolded to a warehouse in a dimly lit side-street. Here they’re joined by one of the girl’s boyfriends, and it’s established that the entire event is going to be documented on video camera.

They sit among the detritus of the warehouse and drink and tell each other stories and when one of the girls complains about the choice of venue and storms off to find a bathroom, squabbles break out. The girl with the camera decides to go snooping and, after training the viewfinder on a liaison she shouldn’t be recording between the boyfriend and one of the girls who isn’t his girlfriend… “Hello” growls a voice and suddenly the party atmosphere takes a violent swerve for the worse as three psychotic vagrants terrorise the women, beat the boyfriend to a pulp, and instigate a very nasty game of ‘Spin the Bottle’, dividing the girls between them for a spot of gang rape.

And then the camera glitches, the frame splits, there are brief subliminal images… darkness… and when the camera switches on again, the thugs have disappeared and the terrified girls are frantically hunting for a way out through a chinese box of rooms (wasn’t this a warehouse?) leading, seemingly, to a no-way-out situation.

And, eventually, to the kind of low-roofed brick cellar I stored my Christmas tree away in once and then bought a new Christmas tree the following year because I was too afraid to go back in the cellar and get the old one out.

Somehow, though, I don’t think the film makers intended to hit any kind of universal ‘that’s scary because it reminds me of where I left my old Christmas tree’ nerve.

Worse still, the only light the girls have while they stumble screaming through this maze is supplied by the video camera, although that’s also obviously kind of useful when you want to leave found footage behind. And then we suspect there’s something else in here to worry about that’s far nastier than the thugs who assaulted them.  Maybe the occult symbols on the wall are a giveaway, or maybe it’s the weird sound of a baby crying somewhere out in the darkness, or the discordant piano on the soundtrack that occasionally gives way to the ‘hornets nest’ school of violin playing.

Or maybe we could care less.

It was a screener. I could have fast forwarded. The fact I did totally the opposite, rewinding one particular moment to be absolutely sure ‘The Creature’ (that’s how he’s credited) was as limp wristed as I first thought and… is that really an alabaster goats head? What can I tell you? I’m a masochist. And subliminal film editing really doesn’t work in the age of frame-by-frame DVD.

I doubt this kind of subliminal editing would even have worked in the movie theatre.

We all know how tough the film business is. It’s a struggle to even get into the room to pitch an idea and then, in the totally bizarre circumstance a producer will actually support you and raise the finance and help you get that film onto the screen in front of an audience… that’s a tortuous, hard fought journey. I’ve got a tremendous respect for anyone who undertakes it, let alone achieves the destination.

But there’s also a privilege in being allowed to take that journey. If you’re fortunate enough to be given that privilege, make the best film you can.

Found footage is lazy. At FrightFest, two found footage movies were very well received. ‘V/H/S’ and ‘Sinister’. You know why? Despite my reservations in an earlier review, at least they tried a new spin on a played-out gimmick.

But do we really believe that the way this particular footage was found via an abandoned camera that ends up in a pawn shop and then into the hands of someone who… well, I’m not going to spoil it but he has an additional part to play once the found footage has ended….

…although why he plays it the way he does makes no sense to me at all. It’s dumb and by the numbers and really stupid…

Is this the best ‘access to a found footage’ idea the film makers could think of?

And then there’s that whole brutalisation of women thing that’s not only lazy but it’s abhorrent. And one of the wonderful things about horror is a smart writer and director can do great things with abhorrence but, please, share the wealth. The women are tortured by the thugs, but when the thugs get theirs (and not from the women, which breaks another important rule in my book) it’s quick and it’s mostly offscreen. But it’s still been okay for us  to watch a group of women being screamed at and terrorised for twenty minutes? Now that can’t be right.

I can’t comment on Eoin Macken’s direction. The opening looked good, most of the rest was shaky-cam. Shaky-cam, like found footage (let’s face it, they go hand in hand) is the low budget declaration of ‘I want to make a film but I’m all out of ideas’.

I want to say he made the best out of limited locations, but I think I know the brick walls in his sets better than anywhere I’ve ever lived because he went for the supreme prize in spinning a camera uselessly around the same space for seemingly forever.  And please don’t insult our intelligence by assuming that when a character finally (maybe?) manages to escape, they’ll just drop the camera on the sidewalk and abandon all evidence of everything.

You wouldn’t. You’d hold onto it for dear life.

When the aforementioned publicity mentioned the film ‘gets into your belly’ I checked with my belly and my belly suggested a precocious seven year old left home alone with a mountain of cheese and his parents deteriorating video nasty collection could make a more original film than this.

I felt sorry for the actors because disposable and chronically underwritten characters don’t really give you much material to add to a showreel, and the cast put much more work into this tawdry mess than it deserved.

And although Whymsonics are credited with score… yep, give that precocious cheese and video nasty enabled seven year old kid a piano and a violin, I’m pretty sure he’d create a better soundtrack too. Although the baby crying sounded authentic. And ‘The Creature’ could make a lot of money, hiring himself out to make heavy breathing phone calls.

I hate trashing somebody’s work. It’s not fun, because I don’t believe anyone sets out to make a bad film. But then, when you make us sit through your interminably bad, ugly, turgidly paced film and endure an hour and a half inside the cesspool of a pretty deficient imagination, I guess all bets are off.

To contradict the publicity, there’s nothing ‘psychological’ about ‘The Inside’. To tell a psychological story, you’ve got to give us characters who promise some kind of psychology. Not firing range cut-outs.

And before you close your publicity blurb with the statement ‘The Inside will re-invigorate the Irish horror genre’ take a look at ‘Grabbers’ and ‘Wake Wood’ and ‘Boy Eats Girl’ and then give yourself a big hard look and ask yourself the question… Really? 

Because when you make a statement as ballsy as that you’d better know, if you’re wrong, that you’ve just painted a massive bullseye on your product.

Unfortunately there are only downsides to ‘The Inside’ but I’m sure a better film maker will make good chilling use of those missing person statistics.

As all the press reminds us, Eoin Macken plays Sir Gawaine in the ‘Merlin’ TV series, so maybe he shouldn’t take any adverse criticism to heart. A relationship to King Arthur briefly derailed Irish resident and ‘Excalibur’ director John Boorman. Maybe it’s like the curse of ‘Superman’.

I always try to end on a positive note.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white