Movie Review: As a premise, Willem Dafoe’s acting showcase Inside seems like a movie that should work, but it’s evident early on that the movie’s script doesn’t contain enough plot to keep it feeling fresh.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Q Ratings of certain directors and actors in Hollywood. For many of those that operate below the all-time greats but still manage to hold onto a level of credibility and relevance, their Q Rating – or overall measurement of likability and familiarity – may mean the difference between landing a solo gig like Willem Dafoe does in Inside, or being left hoping to appear as a side character in the next Marvel offering. While the former may seem like the more respected and worthwhile opportunity, it certainly depends on the quality of the film you’re headlining – and unfortunately for Dafoe, the movie just isn’t quality enough.
The idea of Willem Dafoe masquerading as an art thief seems like a no brainer – he’s been able to operate at a level of uncertainty and untrustworthiness as a performer for quite some time now – but it comes to a head in Inside where any characterization is ignored beyond that simple premise; he’s simply an art thief trying to survive.
And that story plays out for about a hundred minutes as Inside tries to milk every ounce of intrigue beyond that engaging premise that serves as an honest and straightforward synopsis. There’s just not that much that happens in Inside, so while I can offer up plot contrivances and stylistic choices that could’ve caused me to turn sour on the movie, it’s really just the lack of ideas and structure that proves to be too much for the movie.
Willem Dafoe plays Nemo, an art thief that breaks his way into the million dollar apartment in order to steal the collection of priceless art that lines the walls. Unfortunately for our stale antihero, he gets locked inside of the apartment when the security alarms are triggered. Nemo manages to disarm it, but in the process breaks the thermostat and traps himself inside with little rations of food or water to work with. Throughout the movie, Nemo battles the fluctuating temperatures and his own subconscious in order to return to the outside world.
Honestly, I was quite intrigued with the premise of Inside, even if it felt too simple for a feature film. Despite my love for many of Willem Dafoe’s performances, I was worried he wouldn’t be able to carry the entire load for a movie solely centered around his ability to make room with the space he was given.
But Willem Dafoe wasn’t the problem with Inside. In fact, he kept the movie occasionally fascinating as there’s rarely any sort of plot advancement or interest that invited me to keep watching and wonder what would happen next. The movie is boring, and no matter how hard Willem Dafoe works to make his material plausible, he just isn’t able to get it past the finish line.
And Inside is also much longer than it needed to be. There are about 20 minutes of fat in this really fatty movie that could’ve been cut out to at least shore up the runtime. I’d be more willing to forgive an 85 minute movie for trying to be a simple genre exercise that leans heavily on the prospects of its lead actor, but pushing close to two hours feels like a stretch given that the movie doesn’t establish much once he’s stuck in the apartment.
At best, you could say that Inside is an attempt to create a more cynical, abrasive version of Castaway, but the most effective moments in Castaway are when Tom Hanks finds reasons to keep pushing forward when hope is lost. You’re genuinely rooting for the character to hold onto any semblance of aspiration and desire to get back to society. Inside chooses to navigate around the emotions and instead spend ample amounts of time watching Dafoe grow plants and talk himself into insanity.
Some of the procedure still cuts through in the movie, despite feeling like the real procedure was me watching the movie. At a certain point, Nemo discovers that his best bet to escape the apartment is to break through the overhead chandelier that is bolted to the ceiling and climb his way out (the symbolism of Dafoe reaching towards the light is way too obvious and on the nose – you’re not clever!). What follows is a montage of Nemo jerry-rigging a steep incline of chairs and other scaffolding items he finds around the apartment. It’s the one piece of filmmaking that I actually found interesting or visually pleasing throughout the whole thing.
But overall, Inside just didn’t really do it for me. I like Willem Dafoe, but he hasn’t broken into the small group of actors that can just about make anything work. Will I watch him duel it out with Spider-Man over and over again? Sure. How about run a crummy motel like he does in The Florida Project? Absolutely. Do I want to watch an entire movie where he just lives in someone else’s apartment? Not really, I don’t want to watch that again.
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Inside Cast and Credits
Willem Dafoe as Nemo
Director: Vasilis Katsoupis
Writer: Ben Hopkins
Cinematography: Steve Annis
Editor: Lambis Haralambidis
Composer: Frederik van de Moortel
Inside on Letterboxd
Inside on IMDb