Credit : Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features
Inside, the narrative feature debut of commercials director Vasilis Katsoupis, presents a unique one-person survival drama featuring Willem Dafoe. The film blurs the lines between reality and dark fantasy, with an unconventional grasp of temporality, making it a new entry in the Greek Weird Wave. However, without the brutalist-chic design aesthetics and curated art collection, the film is an inverted take on survival dramas like Cast Away or All is Lost.
Dafoe, known for his willingness to put himself through emotional, mental, and physical challenges, is trapped alone onscreen for the entire duration of the film, except for a few brief dream detours. He plays an art thief named Nemo, who breaks into a Manhattan penthouse to steal prized portraits by Egon Schiele. However, the security system malfunctions, leaving him stuck inside and abandoned by his accomplice.
Nemo’s involuntary confinement challenges his belief that art is for keeps and its importance in our existence. As he destroys the penthouse in futile escape attempts, he questions the role of art and gets lost inside his own head, becoming more detached from reality.
The film feels less like a story and more like an agonized fever dream or an endurance art installation, which may make it a tough sell. However, for those with an appetite for Willem Dafoe’s heady plunges into a character’s soul in torment, Inside is worth watching.
After nearly two hours of intense confinement and a brooding ambient score, Inside, directed by Alexander Katsoupis and written by Ben Hopkins, leaves its audience with a bleak conclusion. The film aims to explore big questions of physical and spiritual survival, resilience of the soul, and the primacy of energy, as the protagonist Nemo’s energy is steadily drained away. However, the film fails to provide any clear answers, nor does it offer a satisfying conclusion.
One cannot ignore the fact that Inside is also a masturbatory exercise, which appeals to brainy actors like Willem Dafoe. The commitment of his performance spirals into madness as new challenges are continually thrown at him, and he is left to his own devices as his confinement stretches on. The same elemental hardships that beset characters in outdoor survival stories are encountered in the apartment, as water and air-conditioning are shut off, and the temperature fluctuates between extremes. A wounded pigeon serves as Nemo’s only company, similar to Tom Hanks’s volleyball Wilson in Cast Away.
Initially, Nemo’s resourcefulness in finding creative solutions to his problems is fascinating to watch. However, the film’s high concept soon becomes limiting, making it exhausting for both the character and the audience. The imagined interactions with the building concierge, residents, or the cleaner observed daily on closed-circuit monitors, do little to shake up the static nature of the thrill-deprived thriller. Even Nemo’s fantasy interludes or windy pontifications about visual art fail to break the monotony.
The contemporary art collection on display throughout the penthouse is striking, curated by Leonardo Bigazzi. Still, it seems to both mirror and mock Nemo’s psychological deterioration, much like the smart home technology in the apartment.
The production designer, Thorsten Sabel, creates a visually stunning apartment that starts off as a deluxe Architectural Digest porn but soon turns into a cold, unaccommodating citadel of capitalist privilege, where Nemo must pay with his sanity.
While the film’s rigor is admirable, and the pandemic-inspired construct is inventive, even Willem Dafoe’s formidable intensity can’t save Inside from its own narrowness. Ultimately, the film devolves into a self-reflexive portrait of soul-sucking isolation.