THE INSIDE opens with a few depressing text statistics relating to the amount of missing persons cases currently open in America and Canada. Although, to be fair, this film is set in Ireland so I'm not sure how they're relevant. However, the next onscreen fact arguably is: "In 2009, 22% of recorded murders in Ireland were not reported".

We then meet a scruffy man (writer-director Eoin Macken) negotiating the busy streets of an Irish city one evening, making his way to a pawn shop where he hopes to get some quick cash in return for the ring on his finger. The best the pawnbroker can offer is 75 Euros and a second-hand digital camcorder. The man sniffily accepts.

Moments later, he's in his local Burger King watching the footage stored on the camera. It starts off innocently enough, with a group of young women who've convened to celebrate the 21st birthday of Corina (Siobhan Cullen). The camera, Corina's told, will be her birthday present from the others - but only after they've filled it with footage of the drunken antics they have planned for the night ahead.

The man fast-forwards a little and then continues to watch as the girls - the five-strong group also consists of Louise (Vanessa Fahy), Cara (Tereza Srbova), Sienna (Kellie Blaise) and Sian (Natalia Kostrzewa) - get drunk, share "deep dark secrets" and hook up with their pal Barry (Sean Stewart) to continue boozing in an abandoned warehouse. Wow, these kids celebrate 21st birthdays in style.

Unfortunately, it turns out it was a bad choice of party destination. A few squabbles and a bit of sex later, and the shenanigans are gatecrashed by three hoodlums - Hughie (Emmett Scanlan, still sporting the moustache he has as Brendan in TV's 'Hollyoaks'), Scat (Karl Argue) and ringleader Eamo (Brian Fortune).

Beatings, rape, verbal torment and a shitload of shouting ensue. Then things get arguably worse. The lights go out, a baby's haunting cries are heard and certain characters have died by the time light is restored ...

The mid-section of THE INSIDE races headlong into supernatural territory, the terror all still being captured on the girls' camcorder. It's unfair to provide further synopsis from here onwards - but don't forget the man in Burger King who's still watching this stuff...

THE INSIDE starts in a fairly unpromising manner but soon picks up thanks to the performances. It's worth noting that Macken is an established actor (apparently he's a recurring character in TV's "Merlin"), and that has surely helped him here in his ability to elicit convincing rapport between the girls and a tangible threat from the three thugs who invade their festivities. The scenes where the guys terrorise the lasses is authentically intense, bringing to mind the infamous home invasion sequence from HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. Even the score at this point is reminiscent of John McNaughton's essential chiller.

The more overtly horror sequences are handled deftly, but they really do pilfer from just about every found footage horror film of note. Shaky camera POV shots in the dark with women whimpering offscreen? Check. J-Horror type ghouls flashing on to the screen? Check. Hysteria as a tool to elicit fear in the viewer? Of course. Macken executes these clichés well, to an extent that his film could probably terrify someone with little or no experience of the modern horror genre. Sadly we've seen it all many times before. So while some scenes bring to mind [REC] and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, it's only in a manner that reminds us that this has all been done far more successfully in the past.

Still, the film has fine acting, editing and sound on its side. I'm not dismissing it completely, just suggesting that the first 40 minutes are its most interesting and that the lack of original ideas in its latter half seriously hampered its clearly passionate attempts to scare audiences witless. Oh, and adding a score to found footage kind of robs it of that desired documentary feel.

Monster Pictures are fast establishing themselves as one of the UK's most interesting distributors of modern horror films. Along with the likes of MIDNIGHT SON and EXCISION already under their belt, they'll soon be releasing the much-anticipated THE ABC'S OF DEATH.

In the meantime, their latest release is THE INSIDE.

The film is presented in its original aspect ratio and has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. As a lot of the footage is shot on shaky handheld digital camera, offering a critique of the picture quality seems to be a moot point. Colours are washed out; deliberate glitches such as digital freezes and the occasional stop-motion-type movements are evident from the start. None of these are flaws of the transfer: this is an accurate representation of how the film was shot and intended to look.

English audio comes to us in a problem-free 2.0 mix. Again, it's not the fault of the disc's mix that a lot of the found footage consists of people shouting over one another and the viewer has to really concentrate to catch all of what's being said. I think the last time this was such a chew for me was while watching FIVE ACROSS THE EYES - but at least that disc had optional subtitles. This one, alas, does not.

Monster's disc kicks in with a trailer for the aforementioned ABC'S. From there, the main menu is static while an animated scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 8 chapters.

Extras begin with an entertaining 19-minute Making Of documentary which sees Macken as our host in-between lots of illuminating behind-the-scenes footage. The shoot appears to have been a highly conscientious one, while the writer-director comes across as a likeable, sincere and intelligent young man.

Macken's also around for a feature-length video commentary track. He's joined here by Fortune and Fahy. This employs a split-screen technique wherein the three of them sit on a settee for a viewing of the film in the top left-hand corner of the screen, while a shrunken version of the film plays out in the bottom right-hand corner.

It starts off very self-consciously and I did fear at first that this would be too cringe-inducing to watch. But, despite Fortune's continued crossed-arm posture which suggested to me he'd rather be immersed in the film than listening to the jabber of his comrades, the commentators soon get accustomed to the task at hand and the pregnant pauses gradually disappear (the wine seemed to help, in Fahy's case). Macken leads the light-hearted conversation, naturally, and proffers a lot of valid information amongst the agreeable banter. You have to feel for these guys too: there's one bit where the screen goes blank and text appears explaining that a technical hitch meant they'd talked for 20 minutes without realising they weren't on camera - so had to rewind the film and re-record their chatter...

The film's original 2-minute trailer is hardly inspiring, it must be said. It paints the film as any ten-a-penny 'found footage' piece of crap. Three teaser trailers complete the disc's bonus features.

THE INSIDE is an interesting film even if it's not entirely successful. Macken is a very capable director and I hope he stays within the horror genre if he has another stab at filmmaking.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Monster Pictures
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review