Inside is Vasilis Katsoupis’s feature film directorial debut and there’s no better way to break into the scene than by putting a phenomenal actor such as Willem Dafoe alone in a set and let him do his thing. It’s a masterclass of acting from the veteran Dafoe who delivers a captivating performance, grabbing your attention from the onset and never letting go. Anchored by a stunning production and set design and an intriguing story, Inside allows the actor to shine, and shine he does. The film may leave you with more questions than answers, but there is no doubt behind Dafoe’s performance.
Art thief Nemo (Dafoe) breaks into a luxury penthouse to steal a number of paintings that will make him and his contacts enormously wealthy. While everything initially goes according to plan, a malfunction with the security system ends up trapping Nemo inside the penthouse. Abandoned by his outside contacts, Nemo finds himself now searching every corner of the place for a way out. And with no one else coming back to the penthouse for the foreseeable future, who knows how long Nemo has before he either dies or goes mad.
Inside feels like a film that was meant for a post-COVID world. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the entire world was confined to their own homes and spaces with everyone went on lockdown. All of a sudden our movements were severely limited and for many that was enough to send them into a bit of a stir craze after a day or two. Even though there is no reference to the pandemic at all, Inside feels like one man’s experience of solitude; the film itself being an artistic representation of what many of us experienced just a few years ago. Everything seems fine and doable at first. His biggest worry is still the art and not getting caught, but as time goes on Nemo becomes more and more desperate to escape at any cost.
That’s when the film takes on an escape room-like quality. It’s part horror, part psychological thriller. It would be easy to assume that an art collector’s penthouse would be a place of luxury that a person could last seemingly forever in, but everything is setup in a way to make Dafoe feel trapped. When the security system malfunctions, he breaks the touchscreen monitor in frustration resulting in the cooling system fluctuating from extreme heat to cold. The water has also been conveniently shut off due to what I presume the owner being away on an extended holiday. Dafoe is intelligent in his approach to surviving and keeping himself occupied, but it does feel like him being trapped there is almost intentional. The fridge even taunts him if it’s left open too long by playing music until its closed. My biggest issue with the film is that it is vague on many of the plot details and doesn’t provide many answers. Very little information is given on the art collector or even Nemo himself. There is so much more of this world that I wanted to know about, but like the film itself, everything is confined to this one single space.
As small as Inside‘s world is, every inch of space is made to be captivating and interesting. Not only is the penthouse filled with numerous works of art, both familiar and created specifically for the film, but simply the design and use of the space itself breathes life into the film. It does a good job at spacing things out too and not revealing everything at once, leaving some of its secrets to be discovered later on. Of course, the amazing set design is secondary to Willem Dafoe himself, who brilliantly portrays a man’s descent into madness as the walls close in on him. It’s Dafoe and Dafoe alone on screen. Dialogue is minimal so its his physical performance that drives the story forward the most. Inside feels more like a stage play than a film at times; it’s a window into Nemo’s soul. Any lesser of an actor in the role and the film would be nowhere near as strong.
Inside may seem rather simplistic and dull at first glance, but like any good piece artwork the closer you look at it the more you begin to see. It’s a film that makes you ponder its many meanings, allowing audiences to come to their own conclusions rather than have answers spoon fed to them. Willem Dafoe is front and center and puts on a stellar performance as always. Inside might not be for everyone, but its artistic beauty cannot be ignored.
Inside is a masterclass of acting from the veteran Dafoe who delivers a captivating performance, grabbing your attention from the onset and never letting go. Anchored by a stunning production and set design and an intriguing story, Inside allows the actor to shine, and shine he does. The film may leave you with more questions than answers, but there is no doubt behind Dafoe’s performance.