Nemo, a reclusive, art-obsessed thief, finds himself imprisoned within a collector’s highrise apartment during a heist gone wrong in Inside.
Chamber pieces are celebrated cinematic staples, often allowing film creatives to transform a one-room setting into a lively canvas bursting with dramatic tensions. At first glance, some may consider the medium a straightforward extension of traditional theatrical productions. However, in the right hands, the subgenre can take full advantage of filmmaking’s boundless powers in innovative manners.
With Inside, director Vasilis Katsoupis and screenwriter Ben Hopkins delve into one man’s descent into madness. The results spotlight an enthralling character study bolstered by one of the industry’s finest performers.
The premise is deceptively simple. While in the boiling pressure cooker of a tense robbery, a sudden alarm turns the luxurious apartment space into a confining prison cell for Nemo. Being surrounded by the arts should be Nemo’s bread and butter. He admits in the opening frames that, even as a kid, the lasting allures of artworks possed more meaning to him than any human connection. But, as time passes by, Nemo soon realizes that his entrapment poses far more danger than a simple night’s stay.
Katsoupis operates masterfully behind the camera to entrench viewers in Nemo’s shoes. His intimate framing creates an intoxicating claustrophobia, capturing every bead of sweat and pained facial expression in excruciating detail as Nemo falls further into self-destruction. There is also a palpable sense of disorientation in Katsoupis’s work; the blending of day and time serves as a deft portrait of the character’s growing weariness amidst dire circumstances.
The director’s deft creative choices form a lively backdrop within the one-room setting. Katsoupis’s visuals embrace the human degradation that drives Inside forward, skillfully expressing that concept through the destruction of a sleek apartment space into an incoherent trash heap composed of Nemo’s rambling ideas. For a movie that could have easily relied upon its writing and acting to carry the heavy lifting, it’s impressive seeing how Katsoupis elevates the material.
Still, Inside’s successes are primarily attributed to star Willem Dafoe. I could frankly watch Dafoe eat a sandwich for an hour and a half and remain magnetized by his presence onscreen. Across his four-decade career, Dafoe remains one of the industry’s best character actors, boasting a particular penchant for encapsulating the consuming mania of a character sinking into psychosis (Platoon, Spider-Man, and The Lighthouse are a few great examples). That innate ability is a perfect fit for conveying Nemo’s pained journey.
With sparse dialogue and no other actors to play off of, Dafoe seizes a transfixing hold on the material. The actor consistently grounds Nemo in aching sentiments, depicting Nemo’s decay in a way that never oversells the dynamic with broad theatrics. It’s a genuinely transformative effort that few in the industry could portray with such poised command. Dafoe’s razor-sharp abilities slice away the character’s sense of self until he gradually resembles an animalistic entity.
In terms of narrative, Hopkins creates a screenplay with its fair share of strengths and blemishes. The art motif lingering throughout Inside is an ingenious concept worth exploring. Entrapping Nemo face-to-face with his only true passion relays the overbearing emptiness that lies at his callous core while also allowing Hopkins to mirror some of the artworks’ surrealist qualities throughout the character’s journey. That said, Hopkins’s screenplay can stumble into being too didactic for its own good. I am unsure if the film’s intriguing yet straightforward ruminations fully sustain its 105-minute runtime. Perhaps either a tighter vision or more articulate thematic infusions could have allowed the concept to take on even more gravity.
Regardless, I applaud Inside for its thoughtful elevation of familiar narrative tenants. Katsoupis, Hopkins, and Dafoe form a cohesive team in creating a taut and unshakeably dreary thrill ride.
Inside is now playing in theaters.