We review Inside (2023), the feature film directed by Vasilis Katsoupis with a stunning performance from Willem Dafoe
PLOT: A high-end art thief finds himself trapped in a luxurious high-rise penthouse. Desperate for escape, he finds that getting out may be an impossible task.
REVIEW:Inside is only the second feature film for director Vasilis Katsoupis. It’s a simple story that could easily be dull and ponderous. Yet, it’s a worthy cinematic journey when you cast Willem Dafoe, who would be on-screen nearly every second of the film. The film presents an interesting concept with a not-so-likable character. Even still, it’s interesting to see an art thief’s desperate attempt to make an impossible escape. And while I appreciate this intriguing feature, it’s one I respect more than I was thoroughly entertained by. Yet I fully admire the work put in and the excellent performance of Mr. Dafoe.
Inside tells the story of high-end art thief Nemo (Dafoe), who is assigned to steal a painting worth millions. Once he arrives, things go smoothly. He is, however, on a time limit, and problems ensue when he cannot find the prize possession he is searching for. He misses his chance when the clock begins counting down his need to get out. Thus, Nemo traps himself in the luxurious penthouse high above the city. Once the doors shut and he accidentally sets off an alarm, he attempts to silence it. Yet the property owner has taken all the steps to prevent theft, and Nemo discovers this horror as all the necessary amenities begin to fail.
For some actors, it would be impossible to carry a film on their shoulders. Dafoe does this and then some. The only time we see another character in detail is through surveillance video. There he talks to a maid working in the building he keeps seeing – but she is only briefly shown. And then there is the pigeon just outside, trapped on the penthouse deck. It’s a metaphor that works well; even Dafoe’s conversations with the bird in question work. The actor is so good with the material. You can’t take your eyes off Dafoe. Had the right actor not been at the center, this experience would have been less engaging.
Director Vasilis Katsoupis has two things in his favor here. The set design for the penthouse is impressive. It gives him so much to work with when setting up stand-out shots. There is much to admire visually, considering it all takes place in one setting. And then there is Dafoe, who excels at playing conflicted characters. The man can make nearly every role he plays fascinating to watch. These two elements create a film that takes a few chances but can create a solid viewing experience. It’s not a comfortable or fun movie in any way, yet watching Nemo battle uncontrollable elements in such a beautiful place is undoubtedly original.
I admire the technical aspect and the lead performance, but it’s sometimes a complicated watch. Once we realize that the plumbing is gone, it becomes clear we will see some grotesque and unsettling images. It’s never fun to witness a man surrounded by feces, and it’s also painful to see his agony. And even more problematic, supporting the man on his adventures is impossible. He’s not a good guy, making it difficult to feel much sympathy for placing himself in a terrible situation. That’s not to say that every character should be an exemplary upstanding citizen, but Nemo is not someone I’d want to spend too much time with. It may often work in favor of the film enough that you can still invest in it.
Inside is a fascinating story. It is, at times, dark and compelling. Yet watching a man make terrible decisions and suffer the consequences is also frustrating. It’s easy to appreciate a complicated story like this, and Vasilis Katsoupis creates an intriguing canvas on-screen. Yet Willem Dafoe’s bravura performance makes the film worth seeking out. It may not be a pleasant story, but seeing the levels of a man seeking his freedom from a self made prison is still compelling. Even if I felt way more sympathy for the pigeon stuck just outside. Inside is currently playing at a theatre near you. If you want something different at the local theatre, you might want to check this out.
First appear at Inside (2023) Review