Review by Cole Groth
Inside will test your patience further than most films in 2023. Taking place in a single location, this psychological thriller, directed by Vasilis Katsoupis, relies heavily on an outstanding performance from Willem Dafoe to keep you interested. If you’re a fan of slow burns, this will scratch the right spot, but most audiences will be frustrated by the incessant pace and some overly familiar themes.
Ben Hopkins’s script tells the story of an art thief (Dafoe) whose heist on a penthouse in New York City goes wrong, trapping him inside. Over the 105-minute runtime, Nemo has to use his limited resources to survive and escape, all while his sanity slips away. As time progresses, we slowly receive new hints about how Nemo could escape. Still, the script isn’t polished enough, leaving too many gaps between each clue and focusing too much on the loss of Nemo’s sanity rather than the mystery of how to escape.
The biggest issue with Inside is the script. While the premise is thoroughly engaging, it becomes a bothersome watching experience. Films about people losing their sanity are frustrating and simply not fun to watch. While Dafoe is very good at portraying this loss of mind from being trapped by yourself, we’ve seen this done hundreds of times. It’s hard to derive any meaning from the script in the end because most of the film’s runtime is dedicated to the uninteresting ramblings of a madman.
In addition to the thematically uninteresting script, Katsoupis leans heavily into disgusting the audience as the film pushes its runtime. This isn’t a film for the faint of heart; while the script could’ve kept it simple with the exploration of Nemo’s sanity, it throws in gross shots of gore, maggots, and mold. It sometimes cheapens the experience by turning it into a dull horror film.
While the script holds him back, Willem Dafoe is undeniably incredible as a leading man. He effortlessly portrays Nemo’s trip into insanity, channeling his phenomenal performance from The Lighthouse. While we seem to be escaping the frustrating era of COVID-related films, Dafoe does a great job bringing back the familiar feelings of the first lockdown.
One of the better qualities is the production design. Since this takes place in only one location, the one location must be interesting, and the set designers certainly succeeded here. They replicate the lifelessness of a penthouse for the ultra-rich, with a beautiful set that feels both lived in and like an art gallery.
Films like Inside rely heavily on their lead actors to succeed. Fortunately, this depends on one of our most talented actors. Under anybody else, this would fail because of a weak script and slow pacing. There’s much room for improvement, and viewers will wish that a few more weeks were spent tightening the writing. The result is a film that some will love, but most will feel frustratingly indifferent to.
Inside releases in theaters starting March 17.