Inside Review: Dafoe thrives in a penthouse of horrors
Director Vasilis Katsoupis’ first feature film, Inside, brings viewers into a supremely slow yet oddly captivating tale of survival led by Willem Dafoe in prime form.
At its core, Inside is a simple survival story that sees seasoned art thief Nemo (Dafoe) fight for his life using the limited resources at his disposal after being trapped inside the luxury penthouse he’s attempting to rob. As the conditions of the penthouse worsen and his options for escape diminish, Nemo slowly loses his sanity and possibly heads towards a horrifying end. Honestly, there really isn’t much more to Inside than that, and outside of some opening narration defining Nemo’s inner obsession with art, we don’t get much of a backstory for him. However, even without much context or basis on its main character, the film’s central location has more than enough to it to immerse viewers into a surprisingly rich survival thriller.
While Nemo might be surrounded by immense luxury and an assortment of beautiful paintings, the owner’s (Gene Bervoets) neglect of this place has left it hollow. The food that’s left is mostly moldy and there’s rarely anyone that ever visits this place. Even when there’s someone just beyond a wall that could help Nemo escape, the walls and doors are too thick for anyone to hear his pleas. Not to mention, because of the security system malfunctioning there’s a whole host of problems that threaten Nemo’s ability to survive. The gas and water aren’t working so Nemo can’t properly cook or clean food that he finds and the temperature gauge for the penthouse is constantly fluctuating between roaring heat and freezing cold. On the surface, Nemo being stuck in a wealthy man’s penthouse wouldn’t seem that bad to most people, but it quickly becomes a nightmare for him.
Yet, Nemo shows his impressive resourcefulness that makes watching him try to survive and create an escape route constantly intriguing. From the way he’s able to find food that’ll get him by to him crafting a structure that’ll help him reach a skylight, Nemo shows himself to be more than just a simple art thief. Even the way he’s able to find a constant water supply shows his adaptiveness and his actions really invest viewers deeper into believing that he can get out of this situation even when things seem hopeless. Nemo’s survival story is surprisingly captivating to watch and while it might seem like Inside is going through similar motions of survival movies just like it, Dafoe’s central performance helps the film stand apart.
Without many lines, the film heavily rests on Dafoe’s physical performance. Luckily, Dafoe is more than up for the task and it’s absolutely thrilling to watch him as Nemo. Dafoe brings the intelligence and resourcefulness of Nemo out greatly to make every action continually your attention. He elevates some of the more darkly humorous moments of the film and showcases a physicality that audiences aren’t used to seeing in his performances. Best of all is that Dafoe makes Nemo’s slow descent into madness and hopelessness completely chilling to watch. Dafoe is the master of unhinged and unsettling performances, so no one should be shocked by how perfect he is at showcasing Nemo’s disturbed behavior. With how Katsoupis shows how rough the situation has become for Nemo, his crazed behavior feels fitting and Dafoe just takes it to another level. But Dafoe is still able to make the saner parts of Nemo feel present, so viewers still believe that escape is possible.
The only thing that doesn’t work about Nemo’s spirit and mind breaking is how it brings out this more abstract and philosophical side of the film that isn’t as interesting as just watching Nemo survive. When the film is focused on Nemo surviving in this setting or trying to escape from it, it’s so detailed and easy to grasp that you instantly are locked into every moment. However, when it just shows Nemo’s hallucinations or his growing obsessions with this unknown entity that compels him to draw things on the walls and build a shrine to it, the film just kind of loses viewers.
Because of how little we get to know Nemo, the meaning and impact of his hallucinations and delusions doesn’t feel clear. Thus, it leaves no impact on viewers and the film’s bizarre, hallucinatory nature isn’t as compelling as just watching one man try to survive. Plus, the disconnect Nemo’s descent creates just makes the pacing feel way too slow and at times, the film feels like it progresses at a snail’s pace. The film’s ending carries this same kind of philosophical feel and it ultimately makes the final moments not as satisfying because it lacks definitive conclusions. So, while Nemo’s descent into wild madness brings out a fun Dafoe performance, it detracts a little too much from the great grounded nature of the story.
Inside might nearly lose viewers when it drifts too far from its own reality and falls into sluggish pacing, but it’s able to maintain its captivating viewing experience through the richly tense survival situation that sees Dafoe give a crowd-pleasing performance as he’s trapped in a fight for his life.
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