“INSIDE”
Starring Willem Dafoe, Eliza Stuyck, Gene Bervoets
Written by Ben Hopkins
Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis
Produced by Giorgos Karnavas, Marcos Kantis and Dries Phlypo
Cinematography by Steve Annis
Edited by Lambis Haralambidis
Music by Frederik van de Moortel

By Matt Neufeld
March 17, 2023

“Inside” wants very much to be a film about art, and it is on one level, but what this interesting, suspenseful and well-crafted new film is really about on most levels is, simply, survival.

Willem Dafoe, in yet another exemplary performance in a risky, quirky, edgy and arty (no pun intended) independent film, plays Nemo, a high-end art thief who finds himself abruptly trapped in a high-end high-rise penthouse apartment—with no immediate easy way out. Thus, most of “Inside” is focused mainly on just how clever and resourceful Nemo must be to survive his very real captivity and on how to somehow figure out a way to get out. The respective detailed look at the lengths, ways and methods that Nemo will devise and utilize to simply survive is endlessly fascinating.

Director Vasilis Katsoupis, scriptwriter Ben Hopkins and Dafoe manage to take a very singularly-plotted movie with basically one main character in one main location with one main plot and story purpose and turn that overall singularity and singleminedness into a consistently suspenseful, captivating, at time humorous, at times dramatic and tragic, and overall entertaining film. It’s not always easy to take such basic, minimalistic qualities in film, television and theater and meld and mold them into quality entertainment that not only entertains, but also makes you think.

And that is exactly what “Inside” accomplishes so well. The film is not just about doing whatever it takes to survive in trapped, challenging circumstances and using every bit of ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness to find an escape route. The movie also raises important, insightful, probing and thoughtful questions about the very real, prevalent dangers–evils, even–of modern technology; about how quickly seemingly secure lives can turn into catastrophe in a literal minute; about how far people will, can and need to go just to stay alive; about how we can easily take for granted the basic aspects that we need to live, such as food, water, shelter and staying warm; about the thin lines between sanity and insanity–and the very real dangers regarding how quickly one can completely lose their mind; about how strong the will to live and survive can actually be; and, yes, something about art.

Nemo spends most of “Inside” learning all of these lessons, and Dafoe’s performance as Nemo beautifully conveys all of the respective, varying and conflicting emotions that accompany Nemo’s emotional, physical and psychological journey. It’s a bravura, fascinating, watchable and thoroughly excellent dramatic performance by Dafoe. It’s not easy carrying a movie by yourself, essentially, but Dafoe demonstrates through sheer acting talent just how this can be done.

Katsoupis, the director, does an amazing job with his direction, timing and pacing, and with keeping the movement, camera work and action at a strong, high energy level. Again, he’s working for most of the film with one actor in one location with one basic plot point. Katsoupis is to be praised for his direction, which never slows or lags, and which remains tight, taut and suspenseful.

Scriptwriter Hopkins deserves the same high level of praise. His script is smart, suspenseful and equal parts dramatic and humorous, yet he retains that underlying, constant tone of ingenuity in regards to that major, over-riding dual set of questions that drive the film: Literally trapped inside what is basically a modern-day, tecnology-addled fortress, shut off from the rest of the world, how does one survive? And, facing what appears to be an impossible situation, how on earth does one escape from that fortress?

The answers to these questions will not, and should not, be answered here. To specifically describe how Nemo survives and how he works to escape his very real fortress would be too much of a spoiler. You’re going to have to go see the movie to find out just how Nemo tries to survive and whether or not he escapes.

The explanation regarding how Nemo gets trapped inside this high-tech high-rise fortress is not unbelievable, considering just how much modern-day technology is messing up, screwing up and setting backwards everything, everywhere, all at once. It’s technology that is the base cause for Nemo’s dire, bizarre predicament, so the simple message warning about the very real, pervasive dangers of technology resonate strongly throughout “Inside.” The movie warns us, clearly and correctly, that we constantly need to constrain, control, keep watch over and regulate our technology so it doesn’t eventually turn us all into distant devolved techno frigid punked zombies. The techni generation, as it turns out, can be just as backwards, barbaric and insane as any other generation. We can be just like you, as Crack the Sky warned years ago.

“Inside” also attempts to make some deep intellectual comments about art in general, how art interacts with people on all sorts of intellectual and psychological levels, how art plays a part in peoples’ lives, how people need or don’t need art in their lives, and just how deeply and strangely emotional people can be moved, or not moved, by art. However, despite the filmmaker’s best intentions, the art themes just don’t connect as strongly as the themes of survival and escape.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of films through the decades that present solitary figures in trying, tragic circumstances simply trying to survive and trying to escape to better places and worlds. It’s not a new concept—but it’s still endlessly fascinating, because we all want to survive and, if trapped somewhere, we all want to escape. These are universal, appealing themes, plot lines and storylines. Despite the familiar story, as noted, “Inside” manages to remain fresh, new, non-cliched and relevant.

Within this particular genre of stories, “Inside” recalls many films, television shows and plays. Among the best examples that filmgoers will think about while watching “Inside” are, of course, “Cast Away;” a recent episode of “The X-Files,” in which Mulder and Scully battle a barrage of cold, malfunctioning, impersonal and idiotic techno robots, machines, computers and other assorted techni and techno generation stupidities; and even the beginning scenes of George Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead,” in which the main character, Ben, proves incredibly resourceful and creative in utilizing various things around the house he’s found shelter in. And what are all of these people trying to do? Survive. And escape.

In many ways, we’re all continually trying to just survive. And, in a way, we’re all trapped, somehow, in one way or another. And while we may not be trapped in high-tech high-rises or on remote deserted islands or in remote farmhouses surrounded by creepy slow-moving flesh-eating zombies, we’re all trapped in life, in some way, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not.

And, as “Inside” so intelligently teaches us, all of us have to keep fighting to survive, no matter what stands in our way, and all of us, every day, have to keep trying to escape the worst of things to find our way back to the best of things. It’s that fight to survive that keeps us going, that keeps us sane, that keeps us alive. Because when we lose that fight to survive, we lose our will to live, we lose ourselves and our souls, and when that happens, the movie fades to black, the end credits roll and the story is over.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.