Locked-in films, or films that take place in a single location, often stack the odds against themselves. It is easy for a film to feel stagnant and downright claustrophobic stuck in one location. Sometimes that is the point of the film, as it is with Vasilis Katsoupis' Inside. Nemo (Willem Dafoe) is a thief who finds himself trapped in a pretentious penthouse and must try to survive.
It is a clever premise and carried by a compelling star. Dafoe is particularly made for a one-man-show performance, able to twist his physique into all kinds of versions of himself. Essentially we watch things go from panic to madness as there increasingly becomes no way for Nemo to escape his situation.
For the majority of Inside, this is a promising Twilight Zone-esque thriller with an increasingly nightmarish tone to it. The film revels in the details of the apartment and how Nemo survives stuck inside it. There are thrills to be had in seeing how he figures out new ways to find food, water, and keep his sanity. While the film stumbles in its final moments, ending in an odd way and doesn't bring its side-commentary on art to any meaningful conclusion, Inside entertains. It will stick with you long after watching because it so regularly lets you figure out what you would do in such a situation.
The film begins with a voiceover from Nemo telling us that things die, and music fades but "art is for keeps." This is about the only insight we get into who Nemo is. For nearly two hours, the script focuses far more on the situation than the character who is caught in it. This does make it hard to get emotionally involved in Nemo but it does make for a cerebral and often clever exploration of survival. We know Nemo is an art thief and clearly has a passion for art. Everything else fades in favor of allowing the audience to put themselves into Nemo's shoes.
And what a situation he is in. There is no gas or water in the apartment. The HVAC system glitches out and either pushes the heat to unbearable temps or drops it to freezing. The direction here is strongest when it focuses on the step-by-step that Nemo takes in order to stay alive. A pointless dream sequence could have been cut in favor of stronger pacing. There are also some nagging questions that are never resolved, such as why Nemo never tries to repair the tablet that controls the security and HVAC systems.
While Inside has its faults, at the center of it is a great performance from Dafoe. He is so willing to throw away his ego. One thrilling shot focuses on him licking a freezer dry to get any form of water possible. Dafoe twists his face and body in this scene to make the desperation completely believable. Who slips into madness better than Dafoe and while the screenplay is spotty, his performance never faults.
Inside is unlike a lot of films. It is an often thrilling and uncomfortable watch. The issues I had with it largely come from attempts to add layers of meaning to the situation. I wish this had trusted its setup more and gone for a lean, tense ride. Still, Dafoe's performance is worth it.