Almost a one-man show, Vasilis Katsoupis’s Inside stars Willem Dafoe as Nemo, a meditative art thief who becomes trapped in his target’s luxurious penthouse apartment. Nemo’s attempted heist is ruined when he accidentally sets off the security system and seals himself inside. (It seems ambiguous, at least at first, whether or not “batten down the fortresses and kill the phones but don’t automatically call the police or security company” is a malfunction or some kind of remotely enforced sadism, but it does seem to be just a glitch.) Nemo is surrounded by elevated, high-toned luxury, but the taps don’t work, the toilet doesn’t flush, the stove won’t turn on, and what little is left in the fridge is going moldy. He has no idea when the apartment’s owner will be back from his business trip, and he is–at least at first–ambivalent about any official rescue that will, naturally, immediately land him in prison. But as weeks pass and his sanity frays, he gets far less picky.
Dafoe is magnetic. If his descent into relative madness is less hypnotically engaging here than it was in The Lighthouse, it’s still not too shabby. He’s the best part of the film, followed closely by the set design. You can see why he was drawn to the script, which is a pared-down exercise in suspense and survival, with some artistic contemplation as a bonus.
Unfortunately, Inside‘s script can’t quite live up to its lead performance. Spare plotting needs to be clear and run like a dream, and the film leaves us with too many nagging concerns. Why does the CCTV still work when 90% of the apartment has shut down? Why bother to shut off the water supply to the bathroom and kitchen when you’re obviously still paying the water bill for the in-house sprinklers? Why, once he gets really desperate, doesn’t Nemo even try to make a sign in the hopes of attracting the attention of the numerous passing helicopters? Most of these questions don’t pose insoluble problems, and it would be easy enough, for example, to establish that the apartment’s windows are tinted. But survival thrillers are at their best when they’re engaged in clever problem-solving–a high point here is Nemo working out how to utilize the sprinklers–and when the character ignores seemingly obvious solutions or when the logic of the problems seems fudged, it’s annoying. After a certain point, I felt like Snake on The Simpsons, watching Sideshow Bob write a letter in his own blood: “Use a pen, Sideshow Bob!” You’re making this needlessly hard on yourself!
That being said, Dafoe makes this a solid watch, and the film generates some genuinely striking visuals that have nice thematic resonance. It also makes good use of a selectively deployed sense of humor–in particular, it makes brilliant use of a fridge playing “Macarena” when it’s been open too long. It’s just that it’s good enough to make you wish it were better.
Inside is streaming on Peacock.