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One of the more fascinating, unorthodox and, unfortunately, little-known animated features of recent years. Highly gruesome and surreal in nature, it’s a film of limited appeal, obviously, but it deserves the widest possible audience.

The Package
     FROM INSIDE (2008) was adapted from the well received 1993 graphic novel of the same name by John Bergin, who scripted, directed and animated the film. It won prestigious awards at several film festivals but has never received any kind of substantial release theatrically or on home video--at least not outside a self-distributed (by John Bergin) DVR that now appears to be out of print.

The Story
     In a horrific apocalyptic universe a pregnant woman named Cee finds herself stuck aboard a train. She suffers from unnerving nightmares and witnesses quite a few horrors, including the remains of a crashed train, a creepy guy wrapped mummy-like in bandages, and a vast lake of blood sporting a litter of scattered bones, flesh and corpses.
     The blood lake gradually recedes, but Cee’s nightmares continue, while the more unpleasant effects of pregnancy--vomiting, back aches, etc--make themselves felt. At one point the train is brought to a most unexpected halt by a herd of buffalo on the tracks. The buffalo are rounded up and two of the train’s cars converted into makeshift slaughterhouses, with Cee charged with sharpening the killing knives and hooks. She quits her job, however, after she witnesses a disemboweled female buffalo disgorge a dead offspring.
     Cee notices a passenger taking an interest in her who resembles the creepy mummy-like figure she saw earlier. The figure haunts her as the train makes its way to higher ground and a seemingly impenetrable cave, where a cave-in halts the forward motion.
     Cee is taken to the train’s so-called “maternity ward.” A good thing, too, as the living conditions in the rest of the train steadily degenerate, with emaciated bodies packed sardine-like on the floors.
     Before long the cave-in is cleared and the train once again gets going. This coincides with Cee finally giving birth. The joy Cee takes in her baby seems to offset the awfulness of her world; she strikes up a relationship with the bandaged man, and all seems well.
     But then tragedy strikes, in the form of train tracks that abruptly end at the edge of a cliff…

The Direction
     From this film’s opening moments a powerful atmosphere of brooding malignancy suffuses the proceedings. Dissolves are abundant, as are highly deliberate camera moves and despairing narration by the heroine (effectively voiced by Megan Gold). It’s in those early scenes that the film’s oft-utilized signature image, of a train chugging through a parched landscape, is established.
     The animation is taken directly from the artwork of the FROM INSIDE graphic novel, meaning there are a lot of still pictures in place of conventional animation and/or slight movement amid static backgrounds. This isn’t the first time such an approach has been used in an animated feature (see THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH), but it actually works quite well here given the subdued nature of the proceedings. The technique also provides one of the film’s most striking images: that of falling train cars frozen in midair. It’s a fact that (as anyone familiar with the graphic novel can attest) the illustrations are gorgeously wrought, with a suitably dark, grungy sheen that often recalls the work of H.R. Giger.
     Complaints? There aren’t too many. Like the graphic novel (itself a minor classic of the form) the film imparts a flawlessly evoked depiction of dark surrealism that merges personal apprehension with apocalyptic horror. I can complain, I suppose, about certain technical aspects, particularly the sound mixing--it’s often difficult to hear the voice-over dialogue over the vastly over-modulated sound effects--but this is superlative filmmaking in nearly every respect.

Vital Statistics

KC Grinder Productions

Director/Screenwriter/Editor: John Bergin
Producers: Brian McNelis, John Bergin
Cast: Megan Gold, John Bergin, Gregory Nemec, Chris Duh, Brett Smith, Patrick Hopewell, James O’Barr