Willem Dafoe’s performance is magnetic, and the film is able to juggle the tropes of a thriller with a much more subdued study of gradual descent into madness.

Inside review – Willem Dafoe excels yet again

Inside is an intriguing new film that delves into the psyche of an art thief, portrayed with chilling conviction by Willem Dafoe. Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis, who makes his fiction feature debut, and written by Ben Hopkins, Inside takes us on a nail-biting journey into the world of ultra-luxurious art and its debilitating effect on the human soul.

The film starts with Dafoe’s character, Nemo, breaking into an opulent Manhattan apartment belonging to a wealthy art collector, in the hopes of stealing some Egon Schiele paintings. As he sneaks around the apartment, guided by his accomplice through a walkie-talkie, he realizes that the self-portrait he is after is not where it was supposed to be. The thief takes an unplanned route, triggering a catastrophic security lockdown that leaves him trapped and utterly alone.

What follows is a gripping exploration of Nemo’s descent into madness, as he navigates the maze-like interior of the luxurious apartment, searching for a way out. With every passing moment, the temperature control goes haywire, the lavatory is backed up, and the thief is left with no food or water, reduced to scavenging for scraps and sipping from the timed-irrigation pipes for the plants. The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere, conveyed through tight shots and suffocating sound design, elicits a deep sense of panic and despair in the viewer.

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Dafoe’s performance is a tour-de-force, conveying the thief’s mounting desperation and paranoia with a raw intensity that is difficult to shake off. As the thief begins to obsess over a cleaner named Jasmine, whom he can see through the still-working CCTV screen, he starts to formulate a plan to escape. But with every attempt thwarted by the steel doors that clang shut at every turn, the viewer is left wondering whether Nemo will ever be able to find his way out.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is its use of sensory imagery, particularly in its portrayal of the ultra-luxurious apartment and its high-end art collection. Canvases, sculptures, and video art installations fill every inch of the space, playing endlessly in special rooms, creating a dizzying cacophony of meaningless images. The film suggests that this is what super-rich art investment is – a sterile spiritual prison that leaves those trapped within it hollow and desperate.

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As the thief slowly goes crazy, the film seems to be making a larger point about the role of art in our lives. Does art carry on, persisting in its callous way, even as humanity decays and dies like Nemo’s hermit thief? Is art itself a means of escape, or just another trap in a world that is becoming increasingly meaningless and suffocating? These are questions that the film raises without ever giving a straightforward answer, leaving the viewer to grapple with their own interpretations.

There are moments when the film seems to spin its wheels, with a lack of narrative progression that may test the patience of some viewers. And there is the question of why the thief doesn’t have a smartphone on him, given that he could have used it to ensure his safety in the first place. But these minor quibbles aside, Inside is a film that is never dull, with Dafoe’s masterful performance anchoring the action and keeping it meaningful.

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The film also explores the idea of scarcity, both in terms of physical need and art. Hung on one of the walls of the apartment is David Horvitz’s artwork “all the time that will come after this moment”, which questions the idea of existence and the idea of a moment being part of a whole. It is a strange and enclosed experience, one that may leave some viewers feeling as though they are trapped in a modern art exhibition, unable to find the exit. But for those willing to take the journey, the film offers a glimpse into the darker side of the art world, and a meditation on the ways in which art can both reflect and distort our own humanity.

Willem Dafoe’s performance is magnetic, and the film is able to juggle the tropes of a thriller with a much more subdued study of gradual descent into madness.

Willem Dafoe’s performance is magnetic, and the film is able to juggle the tropes of a thriller with a much more subdued study of gradual descent into madness.Inside review - Willem Dafoe excels yet again