A lumbering bore called Inside is a crucially wooden and mechanical vehicle for the peculiar talents of Willem Dafoe that amounts to nothing more than nearly two hours of pretentious bilge. He plays a thief named Nemo who breaks into a magnificent Manhattan penthouse to steal a fortune in art treasures when the power system malfunctions in the middle of the heist, leaving him stranded with only his wits to survive. The rest of this seemingly interminable slog focuses on what he does in a curiously locked and indifferently owned luxury apartment that seems more like an art gallery than a living space. No occupant phones or shows any interest in the empty space despite leaving a king’s ransom in rare art behind unattended. No alarm system rings. No voice ever registers on the answer machine. What we get is a growing insanity nourished by growing insanity while the star mopes, moans, agonizes, screams for help, and tries to find enough food to stay alive. Did I say “endurance test”? This one breaks new ground in the effort to stay awake.
INSIDE ★ (1/4 stars)
He pees. He sucks the last remaining ice cubes out of a refrigerator that is defrosting. He eats whatever he finds, as desperation creeps in. He breaks things in every room. He cuts his hand on a can opener. The film comes briefly alive when he spots a cleaning lady on the closed-circuit TV and starts yelling for her attention. But she doesn’t hear him, so he sinks back into his lethargy, and so does the movie.
Nearing starvation, he eats the colorful inhabitants of the tropical tank and defecates in the swimming pool. Garbed in some kind of medieval religious caftan, he slowly begins to destroy the lavishly appointed prison. “Art is for keeps” are four of the only words spoken, but they make no more sense than anything else in the film. You spend your time praying for dialogue while you keep an eye on your watch, but no reward ever comes. In the wordless silence, Dafoe just spends his time sinking deeper into mental despair, smashing glasses and destroying the furniture. It is never clear why nobody ever rings the doorbell or why the plumbing doesn’t work. Or, for that matter, what Willem Dafoe ever saw in Inside in the first place. No arresting or thought-provoking ideas are ever introduced. I guess you can call it a tour de force, but it’s not the kind of thing any actor would sign up for based on the number of lines the director (in this case a first-timer, Vasilis Katsoupis) might hopefully save in the editing room. Curiously, the film credits somebody named Ben Hopkins with writing a screenplay that doesn’t exist.
William Dafoe’s unique face and morally ambiguous stance make him an exceptional portrayer of unhinged psychological screen wackos, but the absence of any character revelation or plot development robs Inside of any remotely sustainable interest.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.