Directed by: Vasilis Katsoupis
Distributed by: Focus Features

Written by Patrick Hao


From Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” to Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” to the robot Wall-E in “Wall-E,” every great actor takes on the task of carrying an entire movie by themselves in a survivalist exercise. So it is no wonder that someone would utilize Willem Dafoe’s talents in such a movie. With Dafoe’s angular no fat body, mischievous smile, and dark burdened persona, Dafoe is perfect for the tormented protagonist of “Inside.”

 “Inside,” the feature directorial debut of Vasilis Katsoupis has the visage of a DTV film but is one of great ambition. Dafoe plays Nemo, an art thief who breaks into a midtown Manhattan high-rise penthouse. The task is to steal three paintings by Egon Schiele. But soon things go awry as the penthouse’s security system activates, essentially becoming a prison for Nemo. His only contact to the outside world, a voice on a walkie talkie ignores any of Nemo’s beckoning calls. The apartment’s refrigerator is emptied and the water is shut off as the owners have gone for an extended stay in Kazakhstan.   

The minimalist apartment is an excellent setting for a survivalist thriller such as this. The elements are bare, with the life of luxury essentially becoming Nemo’s own death sentence. Like most NYC high rises the windows cannot open. The solitude of the rich from the outside world makes communication virtually impossible. And the lack of tactile technology prevented Nemo from fixing the malfunctioning central air system. All he has are a few stale crackers, caviar, and a sprinkler system for the indoor garden that comes every few days. 

But, the film has its heart on its sleeve. Beyond the brutalist economical storytelling, the film based on a story by Katsoupis is interested in the total destruction of the self for art. It is no wonder that Egon Schiele is the central artist feature. The expressionist 1910s painter was famously imprisoned, fundamentally impacting the tenor of his work for the rest of his life. Nemo, as is communicated from his narration, also thinks of himself as an artist. As he is denied life’s pleasures and his body deteriorates, he begins to create art – first as fiendish graffiti, then as original creations depicting his own demise. 

Everything in the film becomes a metaphor. There is the bird outside his window trapped by the netting Nemo used to come in. His own deterioration tracks Nemo’s. Even Nemo’s name is an allusion to the Captain in Jules Verne’s character in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” whose ruthless ambition is only matched by his taste in fine art. Nemo the character totally destroys himself for the sake of art. 

But, Kastoupis’s film bordering on pretension stumbles a bit on the delicate balance of making an entertaining movie in the progress. As the film goes on, the repetition of the affair of being trapped in the penthouse and the central thesis becomes a bit of a repetitive chore. The only thing holding it up is Dafoe’s total devotion to the role because Dafoe cannot give anything less. Dafoe is a completely unpretentious actor, one who knows how to go hog wild and likewise when to stay restrained. With this role, he oscillates between the two modes. It is clear why he would be attracted to this project and in it he thrives. If only the film could live up to him.

“Inside” Trailer

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