Review: “Inside” Takes Quarantining to a New Level
There’s a scene in Men in Black that posits that most of our stars and celebrities are actually aliens. Adele, Beyoncé, and more make that list, but there’s more than enough room to include our wonderful actors who are a bit left of center. Christopher Walken, Lakeef Stansfield, Christophe Waltz, John Malkovich and of course, star of Inside, Willem Dafoe. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dafoe in a film where he wasn’t being strange and there’s something oddly comforting about such an oddity.
Dafoe’s got a fluid sort of confidence that speaks to decades of performances that go beyond what anyone would think of as normal, and it’s usually a gift to the audience. His ability to elevate the magic of movie making simply with a turn of phrase, or even just from the light glinting off of his sharp cheekbones. He’s experimental and raw and all of his magnetism is on full display in Inside.
Inside has a simple premise. A man gets trapped inside of a fancy apartment and must figure out what to do. However, a brilliantly-layered setup takes what could be a very boring and one-note premise, and makes it compelling, cringeworthy, fascinating and at times triumphant. Dafoe is an art thief, or at least the retrieval guy for a group of art thieves. He’s in a penthouse/gallery that houses paintings worth millions of dollars. Upon realizing the portrait he was in there for specifically is missing, things begin to go awry. They’re on to him, and the code to leave the building doesn’t work.
Communication is shut down and the areas begin to barricade themselves, locking into place and trapping Dafoe Inside. Dafoe plays Nemo, which is fitting given the circumstances. He is like a fish in a bowl, a metaphor we see on display throughout. It’s high end in every sense, and the owner was going to be out of town. Grocery orders were canceled, most of the utilities turned off save a few, no maid service. When Nemo opens the fridge, there are things like bottled water, capers, expensive things in jars with water crackers. A pantry reveals dried goods, but none of it is of use to Nemo as he begins to run out of water.
There’s also the added petard of Nemo’s own hoisting. While trying to turn off the alarm, he damaged the panel that controls the heat and cold. The heat begins to rise dangerously, and he swelters from it. He’s searched every corner and there’s no way out. He sees something though, and it will require unlikely construction, but if he can make it, he could be saved! Well, maybe.
Movies like this are always fascinating because it exercises the part of my brain that wonders what I would do in that situation. How would I react? What would I do if I got injured? Then, we see these same questions considered by Nemo as he considers his fate. He doesn’t know how long he has, but also, there’s the unspoken issue of if someone comes to save him, will he just be sent to another jail?
To keep his sanity (or rather, accept that his hold on sanity is fickle at best in this situation) he develops monologues, works on his stand-up act, and holds in depth one-sided conversations with people he sees on the security panel focused on the floors below him. That adds a special wrinkle to Inside. In the modern age of cell phones, there are no landlines inside the apartment. The only interaction with the outside world is the panel, divided into 9 squares, showing small black and white vignettes of life. He names them and memorizes their schedules.
As they go through their routine lives, it proves to confuse the timeline, making both Nemo and the audience unaware of how many days or months its been. We just know it’s a lot. It visibly takes its toll on Dafoe, who seems to become more gaunt and more delirious as the temperature fluctuates, the lack of water becomes more dire, and even the paintings seem to change or even melt depending on the angle.
Once creature comforts like a bath or a change of clothes are removed and all that’s left is priceless art, Nemo begins to wonder if it’s really so priceless after all. He considers not only the art of the penthouse, but also his family, his colleagues, and even himself. We see the shedding of ego in the face of isolation. With no more conventions to live up to, does it make Nemo a free man, or does it ultimately cause him to be more trapped?
As Nemo’s mind and the penthouse unravel, we’re suddenly faced with a goal. Something to focus Nemo’s energy and the audience’s resolve. It’s a brilliant tactic and one that moves the film along when a timeline is lost. Nemo’s resilience is admirable and it’s an interesting turn that they made him an art thief who would slowly go from foe to hero. In a way the penthouse itself is the villain as Nemo journeys to escape its grip.
Dafoe does a wonderful job and carries the film without overwhelming it. It never jumps the shark, it never becomes louder than it needs to be. Inside is grounded, haunting and beautiful and well worth the watch.
Inside is in theaters now and will be available on VOD.
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