Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis.
Starring Willem Dafoe, Gene Bervoets, Josia Krug, and Eliza Stuyck.
Nemo, a high-end art thief, is trapped in a New York penthouse after his heist doesn’t go as planned. Locked inside with nothing but priceless works of art, he must use all his cunning and invention to survive.
There isn’t much to the story or the lone character of director Vasilis Katsoupis’ sophomore feature Inside, but there is a high concept tied to lockdown parallels and the meaning of art that is too thinly written (the filmmaker also cowrites the screenplay alongside Ben Hopkins) but does also double as an isolation survival thriller that is squeezing every drop of talent and charisma out of Willem Dafoe and his highly expressive face (there are numerous close-ups on various parts of his body as the temperature drastically changes and affects him) as Nemo, and art thief disguised as a handyman breaking into a luxurious penthouse to loot three high-value self-portraits.
Before things quickly go downhill, Nemo communicates with a remote teammate while searching for the portraits. The first two are easily located, while the third seems to be in an unknown location, inaccurate to their expectations, which also causes an alarm to go off that disrupts the temperature system and locks Nemo inside the penthouse. Admittedly, the setup here is a stretch, but what the filmmakers do with it counts more.
While the production design is highly impressive, elaborately creating an absurdly rich home covered with eye-catching art and refrigerators that sing Macarena (which Willem Dafoe sings at one point, clearly drawing inspiration from his performance of slow descent into madness found in The Lighthouse), the filmmakers ensure that Nemo is constantly up to a new tactic to escape hopefully.
He attempts everything from carving holes into walls to building makeshift ladders out of random objects to potentially reach a glass ceiling window to climb through, all while showing believable desperation that the janitor vacuuming the hallways might hear his screams from the soundproof front door. There are also security feeds showing what’s going on throughout the rest of the building, which is amusing and devastating for Nemo, observing and getting down the routines of the workers and the small joys of their lives while he unravels alone.
As previously mentioned, Nemo has to deal with a haywire temperature system that slowly increases to scorching levels of heat and then down to frigid cold, primarily because every time he tries to fix it, the problem worsens. This adds another layer to the survival elements, allowing creative ideas to deal with these overwhelming conditions.
The only glaring frustration is that because there is so little insight as to why Nemo is acting out this robbery (although based on his remarks about the paintings and his personal love for sketching and doodling, there does seem to be a grudge), the isolation and survival occasionally become repetitive and aren’t enough to sustain close to a two hour running time of immersion.
After spending considerable time with the concept, even when Inside introduces new escape methods or briefly interrupts itself for a small amount of backstory, there’s the sensation that the point has been made and that the film doesn’t have much more to offer. Once the narrative arrives at its grand commentary on art, which provides something to ponder, it’s still unlikely to stand out more than Willem Dafoe breaking down and losing his mind.
Inside is a reminder that Dafoe is such a gifted performer that his characters are easy to invest in, even without much depth, so long as the concept is suspenseful and engaging.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com