‘Inside’: Someone Please Save Willem Dafoe From This Messy Movie
The frozen tundra, a desert island, the depths of a jungle, the middle of the ocean, the ends of the earth — these are the places where you normally set a survivalist thriller. Inside adds one more to that list of adapt-or-perish hot spots: New York real estate. Specifically, the kind of luxurious penthouse apartment favored by the one percent, coveted by most plebeian Gothamites, and considered a bona fide bonanza for an ambitious art thief. It just so happens that one of the latter has, along with a team of fellow criminals, targeted the place for a robbery while its owner is currently out of town. The crook’s name is Nemo, which is the first of several warning signs that you, dear viewer, are in for a heavy-handed ride.
The fact that Nemo is played by Willem Dafoe, however, also ensures that at the very least, you can expect some extreme commitment to the craft onscreen. Whether he’s playing Jesus or Pasolini (six of one, really), the 67-year-old actor has a knack for bringing an extraordinary intensity — not to mention more than a few inspired, batshit moments — to whatever role he takes on. And like the job Nemo has before him, this role initially seems like a cakewalk for Dafoe. His thief is deposited via helicopter onto the roof of the building, while a voice on the other end of a walkie-talkie guides him through the mechanics of the heist. Whoever lives here has a one-of-a-kind art collection, including a self-portrait worth $3 million. That one seems to be AWOL, which means he’s got to cut his losses and take what he can get.
So the voice gives him the code to dismantle the security system in time for a quick exit. The code doesn’t work. An alarm is triggered. The place automatically locks every single door. The walkie-talkie’s line goes dead. When Nemo finally stops the noise, he also shuts down this smart house’s control system. The phone lines and internet don’t work. The temp starts going up: 74 degrees, 80 degrees, 104 degrees. The windows are unbreakable. There’s little food in the fridge (luckily a pantry has some items), and no running water. Nemo is trapped here. No one can hear him in this impeccably decorated, state-of-the-art trap. And it starts to seem like its owner is never, ever coming home again.
Which means we get to watch Dafoe go full Upper-East-Side Robinson Crusoe in one of the sleekest modern-deco wastelands ever — give it up for production designer Thorsten Sabel, who turns this chic pad into a caricature of art-snob taste — and that Greek filmmaker Vasilis Katsoupis has his formalist work cut out for him. Confining the action to that single multi-roomed location, Inside makes the most of its high-concept premise, with Dafoe dictating both the rhythms of his character’s resourcefulness (capturing water from the in-house garden’s sprinklers, constructing a Tower of Babylon out of furniture to reach a skylight) and charts his slow descent into madness. And the director treats the parameters of the plot as a challenge, filming this penthouse prison cell from every conceivable angle. It’s designed to be a one-man show for its star, who gives the proceedings the seriousness of an experimental Wooster Group production. But the movie is really a two-hander — a duet between a man and his cage.
Trump Says He Didn’t Call for 'Death and Destruction,' Simply Voiced His Concern It Would Happen
Trump Allies Are Begging Him to Stop Hinting at Violence on Social Media
She Escaped Scientology in the Trunk of a Car. Her Nightmare Is Far From Over
Pink Duets With Kelly Clarkson as She Accepts iHeartRadio Icon Award: A 'Miracle'
It also strains the limits of logic the longer Dafoe tries to fashion an escape or simply stay alive. We can buy that a rich eccentric would fashion a noise-proof house with a bleeding-edge security system and be ignored by his fellow building-mates — this is New York, after all. Ditto the fact that the cleaner (Eliza Stuyck) who Nemo glimpses on the security-cam feed wouldn’t hear him bellowing for help even when she’s right outside the thick, steel-plated door. But wouldn’t a security company be alerted eventually? How come nobody is coming by to feed the expensive-looking fish? Hoity-toity aprtment owner or not, why would he not own a single can-opener? We could go on nit-picking plot holes that seem excusable enough on their own, but cumulatively begin to test your suspension of disbelief to a high degree. Except we’re too busy shaking our head about the pigeon on the outside patio that begins to weaken, fester and rot. We told you this was going to be symbolically heavy-handed.
There are suggestions that some, or maybe most of what we’re seeing may not be real, especially when Nemo’s hallucinations begin to outweigh the more realistic scenes of his isolation. Yet Inside’s attempts at playing existential head games don’t quite track either, and you can sense that courting such pretentiousness is not a winning hand for this film to play. (We wonder whether this hitting the cultural bloodstream after years of pandemic lockdowns is a boon or a burden, considering that so many of us might have strongly related to our man’s fine madness had this come out in late 2020.) Whether the ending is optimistic or bleak is your call; it’s obviously crafted to be a litmus test for your outlook on life, the universe, and everything. What is clear is that great actors can do a lot to sell an ingenious idea that ends up being both its distinguishing factor and its own worst enemy. Yet even an Oscar-nominated GOAT can’t escape something that seems so perfectly put together on the outside and is so flawed, easily trashed, and barely held together on the inside.