THE STORY – 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.
THE CAST – Willem Dafoe, Gene Bervoets & Eliza Stuyck
THE TEAM – Vasilis Katsoupis (Director) & Ben Hopkins (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes
Not to be confused with Bo Burnham’s 2021 musical comedy special of the same name (there are few laughs here, I’m afraid), Vasilis Katsoupis’ “Inside” instead centers around an art thief named Nemo – played by a reliably riveting Willem Dafoe – who, when attempting to rob an upscale New York penthouse of the prodigious paintings that lie within, accidentally becomes trapped within said penthouse when a sudden malfunction causes its security system to lock him inside. Abandoned by his handler, Nemo is left to his own devices, with nothing but this now worthless art as he battles with a security system that seems destined to starve or kill him before he can escape.
On the surface, this seems like a pitch for a propulsive, one-location thriller, a la “Buried” or “10 Cloverfield Lane.” But what Katsoupis and writer Ben Hopkins have on their mind here is something far less viscerally compelling and far more cerebral. Rather than showcase how Nemo can gradually conquer his surroundings throughout the film and come out on top, “Inside” conversely covers the slow unraveling of his sanity as he strains against a system that simply cannot be challenged. Over time, it hardly seems like this is a house for any human at all: there’s no running water, the pantry and fridge are almost entirely empty, and the temperature fluctuates wildly, transitioning from harrowing heat to caustic cold seemingly on a whim.
At the start, “Inside” is initially engrossing and engaging as we acquaint ourselves with these new surroundings – and struggles – right alongside Nemo, led by Dafoe in yet another astonishingly physically and emotionally committed performance (do we expect any less these days?). But the film’s biggest hurdle is the fact that it’s not this aforementioned sub-90-minute suspense-driven story but instead a 105-minute movie aiming for more ambitious meditations on art and life in the midst of Nemo’s everyday encumbrances, yet ultimately proves too thematically elusive to leave us with any message of substance to walk away with – and ultimately rendering the whole experience exhausting for the sake of being exhausting for some.
As with all art, “Inside” seems tailor-made to assure that every audience member walks away with a different idea of “what it’s saying” or what Nemo’s plight is meant to “represent,” but it leaves too much of this thinking to the viewers, failing to give us concrete reasons to care in its lead character’s ongoing odyssey after the one-hour mark. Dafoe does what he can – and if the film is at all ever absorbing, it’s mostly due to his diligent dedication to fully realizing Nemo’s slow mental degradation – and Katsoupis’ direction is admittedly deft and disciplined, capably escalating the tension throughout as he aims to align us with Nemo’s aggrieved perspective as much as possible (while simultaneously exceptionally highlighting the pristine and elaborate production design in this penthouse). Still, without more of a structure to the story or a more concrete conclusion, “Inside” leaves us on the outside looking in.