Hannah Strong


Inside – first-look review

Willem Dafoe plays an art thief who becomes trapped in a high-tech luxury pent house in Vasilis Katsoupis' unusual thriller.

There’s something strange and beguiling about the work of artist Egon Schiele, who studied under Gustav Klimt and became a key figure of the Expressionist movement of the early 20th century. With their wide eyes and exaggerated proportions, the subjects of his paintings and drawings are distinctive, odd, and highly coveted – much like Willem Dafoe, who in Vasilis Katsoupis’ Inside plays Nemo, a thief who becomes trapped into a luxurious Manhattan apartment after attempting to steal a collection of Schiele’s work.

Nemo is an artist himself as well as an appreciator (and acquirer) of fine art. When he arrives at the unoccupied home of a successful architect in order to rob him, he moves through the apartment with a feline grace, stopping to collect loot and appreciate the decor, but otherwise unbothered by his surroundings. He has a plan, and will follow it to the letter – this is not a crime of opportunity, but a heist that has been meticulously devised, and he communicates with an unseen accomplice via a portable radio.

Unfortunately things go badly wrong when the apartment’s security system malfunctions as Nemo attempts to exit, and he becomes trapped inside. Fearing detection his partner quickly bails on him, and Nemo is stuck on the top floor of a high rise with no way out. The alarm system falters, and seemingly no one is notified. Initially Nemo attempts to attract the attention of the building’s custodians, but when this fails, he is forced to start thinking outside the box.

For the majority of the film’s runtime Dafoe is the only person on-screen, and he doesn’t share a scene with any other actor. This means the responsibility falls to him alone to carry the film, with minimal dialogue and a sparse plot which mostly sees Nemo attempting to solve various problems that arise, such as the building’s heating system cooking him alive, and the fact that the water supply has been cut off while the tenant is out of town. If there was ever a man up to the task it’s Dafoe, a consistently compelling presence who proves infinitely watchable, even when he’s just pottering around muttering to himself.

Time moves strangely within the apartment. Nemo finds the television only displays the close-circuit security from the rest of the building, and this becomes his chief form of entertainment. He develops a minor obsession with the cleaner who occasionally stops outside the apartment’s soundproof door, attempting to make contact with her and becoming increasingly frantic as he fails. A pigeon with a broken wing becomes trapped in the apartment’s enclosed atrium; Nemo is unable to reach it, so much watch as the creature becomes weaker and weaker, a feathery reflection of his own imprisonment.

Small pieces of information reveal themselves about Nemo, but Ben Hopkins’ script is sparse and coy, avoiding any big reveals. It’s mostly up to the audience to interpret Nemo’s history and motivations, which makes him a fascinating protagonist, and slowly it becomes easy to root for him, as the seemingly simple task of leaving the apartment is elevated to Herculean proportions.

The harsh greys and sharp lines of the apartment itself lend an eerie austerity to Nemo’s surroundings, and it’s possible to interpret the setting as a metaphor for limbo – that space between heaven and hell where lost souls linger after death awaiting judgement. Even Nemo’s name (which may or may not be a psuedonym) feels like a playful joke. Does it refer to the Latin word for ‘nobody’, or to Jules Verne’s mysterious, vengeful captain in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas?

The lack of tangible resolution in Katsoupis’ film may prove frustrating for those who like a neater conclusion, and even at a fairly trim 105 minutes there’s a slight lull in the mid-section, but Inside is a stylish affair, with another banner performance from Dafoe and an inspired implementation of Los Del Río’s party anthem Macarena. A novel take on the heist film, Inside fosters a surreal, unnerving atmosphere and makes voyeurs of its audience – like spectators in a gallery, murmuring about the meaning of a dead man’s art.

Published 20 Feb 2023

Tags: Vasilis Katsoupis Willem Dafoe

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