Berkreviews INSIDE (2023)

Watching Willem Dafoe do anything has generally been compelling. The man is intense and scary, but he can also be unbelievably vulnerable. It was brilliant casting for director Vasilis Katsoupis’s feature debut, which basically just puts Dafoe in a fancy penthouse for the movie’s entire runtime. Inside is much more existential than one would think, and it may not satisfy an audience member looking for more of a plot-driven story. However, if performance, set design, and pondering humanity’s relationship with the world work for you, it will definitely make an impact. 

Dafoe plays an art thief named Nemo, who finds himself trapped in a penthouse apartment after triggering the alarm, which subsequently malfunctions. He is initially hopeful that his partner, referred to as #3, will come to his aid. Then, he expects the police. The owner. The maid. Someone. Anyone? Hours bleed into days, and the days into weeks – but it is hard to keep track of how long Nemo is in this circumstance. He is determined to survive, and it takes him to some extremes. 

Dafoe is the right kind of crazy for a role like this. There are no other characters for him to speak to, but he finds ways to still deliver some incredible lines. At one point, there is a monologue sequence where he tells a joke about a mother making chicken for dinner every night that is cross-cut, with him essentially doing the same thing over and over. It’s late into the movie when this happens, and his character is starting to crack under the stress of it all – but it only adds to the incredible performance Dafoe is giving to the filmmaking. 

Willem Dafoe stars as Nemo in director Vasilis Katsoupis’ INSIDE, a Focus Features release. Credit: Wolfgang Ennenbach / Focus Features

The production design is impeccable, and the camera choices add to the feel of the film. When Nemo is first trying to get out – or at least turn off the deafening sirens – he starts dragging this giant table to stand on. The camera is mounted to the opposite end, looking at Dafoe as he struggles to move it. It produced the same result as a snorricam, which is where the camera is mounted on the actor who is fixed in the center of the frame and the background moves around them. The style creates a disorientating effect, and is often used to indicate the character is intoxicated – or at least freaking out in the moment – which is the desired effect here. There are many great stylistic choices, and I felt there was at least a solid restraint on close-ups for the most impact when they are used. 

While the experience of watching the film was never boring, the point of all that happened was a little unclear. In many ways, that is an asset, as the audience can potentially project many subjects onto the situation. There is a clear meditation on the role of art in our lives, and pondering the purpose of this piece of art makes perfect sense. Yet, it is unclear what Katsoupis wants the audience to take away from this experience. Watching this almost exactly three years after the global lockdown found most of us “trapped” inside definitely resonated, but it doesn’t feel like the goal of the movie. Even though the film left me wondering what exactly I was supposed to think, I find myself unable to think about anything else. Its emptiness and endlessness echo in my mind, and I can’t deny the impact that film has left. 

Inside is playing in select theaters as of March 10.

Rating: Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy.

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