Review: Willem Dafoe is Alone and On A Mission in the Exceptional “Inside”

Intentionally claustrophobic and tightly wound, Vasilis Katsoupis’ Inside places an exceptional Willem Dafoe in the middle of a unique situation and lets him do what he does best: be weird and entertaining.

Dafoe stars as Nemo, a meticulous art thief who breaks into a New York penthouse for his latest heist. While everything seems to go according to plan, an alarm is triggered and Nemo is locked inside. With the owner out of town and the police not alerted to his presence, Nemo looks for every possible way to get out of the apartment.

What starts as an attempt to escape, evolves into attempting to survive. With dwindling food, very little water, no plumbing, and no outside communication, Nemo must utilize all his wits and skills to stay alive and make it out alive.

Many other films have attempted their versions of COVID-forced filmmaking. Some utilize a limited setting to their advantage (Good Luck to You, Leo Grande), some use it as an excuse to try something new (Family Squares), while others use the new environment to enhance the story (Kimi). With Inside, the limitations give the filmmakers a great excuse to have Dafoe work alone and be interesting. The film never feels like a COVID movie, but rather a wholly unique experience that would have been fascinating even if the pandemic never happened.

Katsoupis is an assured first-time director. Instead of following Dafoe around the apartment and passively viewing his actions, the camera is like a second character. The camera lingers around corners and anticipates potential escape routes, while also foreseeing further barriers blocking Nemo from his freedom. Art and the immortality of artwork play a major role in Nemo’s plight. While he initially chooses this apartment for a single valuable painting (which he couldn’t locate), the other art stares him down as he spends his days plotting his escape. Each piece of art has a history which Nemo can appreciate, but he also grows to hate.

The apartment is an exceptional set-piece. Part pretentious art snob, part castle, part prison, the seemingly contained apartment continues to expand as Nemo searches for salvation. As the chaos of the apartment grows from one challenge to the next, questions start to form on what was the true purpose of the heist. Was Nemo set up as a patsy to be caught, or perhaps the unseen owner views Nemo as a true piece of art he can manipulate in his own twisted ways?

Willem Dafoe has turned into one of our most captivating actors. He displays a mix of physicality, vulnerability, humor, and insanity in his performance. Instead of relying on constant verbal assault, Dafoe passes the time through his face. The time, patience, and sanity wear on the actor and he regurgitates that weather back to the audience. So much of his performance is conveyed through facial reactions over easy dialogue choices.

Not only is he wonderful in the role, but does so with a complete lack of vanity. There is nothing particularly dashing or glamourous about the role of Nemo, but Dafoe doesn’t shy away from the things he is asked to do. Whether it’s putting on a fake cooking show for no audience, or relieving himself in an empty bathtub, there are no levels to which Dafoe is afraid to go. It’s a brave performance for an actor of Dafoe’s magnitude.

Inside has no qualms about the type of film it is. Between Dafoe’s masterful performance and the exceptional set design, there is plenty for audiences to enjoy, or at least be fascinated by.

Inside is currently playing in select theaters
Score: 4.0/5.0

Review: Windfall
Review: The Northman

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