Willem Dafoe continues his “going loopy in isolated places” sub-genre dive with Inside. Obvious connotations of lockdowns and being trapped indoors spill from the potential message of this Vasilis Katsoupis-directed feature. It does not turn out that way. Art theft and sanity are not bedfellows of lockdown woes of the past few years, and the Dafoe-led feature does well to kindle interest in the man himself. But Dafoe is not enough, even though his one-man show should be of incredible quality. Inside does not get inside the mind of Dafoe although it should have no trouble doing so. He has all the capabilities of a proven leading man, but Katsoupis does not utilise them.
Only so many moments of Dafoe sweating, screaming and stealing his way through an artsy home are viable for this one. Inside has plenty of that, the moments of isolation and fear are clear yet the immediate reaction of Nemo (Dafoe) is not as compelling. In destruction comes new art is a wonderful message to have but Inside fails to create new work in the fires of the unhinged soul. Meditative moments turn complacent as they fail to manoeuvre the bloodied and sweaty art thief toward some ascended thought or interpretation of what art can mean. Katsopis’ direction feels hollow and simplistic at times. Focusing on an ice cube eating, table mounting Dafoe is not enough to maintain a consistent pace. Repetition is key to madness but the only madness Inside finds is in its continued, flawed reactions to survival-based intimacy.
Fundamentally flawed is the premise on which Nemo rests his commentary. Art is for keeps he says in the opening flitters, discarding music as art and the emotional connection to family and creatures. Inside is a possessive and often smug movie that hopes to light a fire under the clarity of art from mania. In art there is destruction but in destruction there is something new is the underlying message Inside hopes to chart. A shame then that it has nothing new to truly say for itself. No person can survive on art alone and the expressed insanity of Dafoe throughout this is proof enough. But Katsoupie lacks the pacing necessary for a considered or claustrophobic event, instead charting a very open space to craft a story of isolation. Dafoe is expectedly solid and commands with his versatility as a physical performer, but much of Inside relies on the solid turns he has already given in reflective isolation, as he did through Siberia.
Staged and vague, Inside fails to maintain its madness. Macarena and slurping ice cubs from inside a fridge as the heat rises do not match the pacing Katsopis actually achieves. For all the apartment sees its temperature scorch, its implementation of theme does nothing of the sort. As toothless as the man attempting to live on in an apartment that looks more and more like an upturned coffin than anywhere else. Debilitating it may be to see how far one man will go for survival, it never feels pure or honest. Audiences see the reason and the outcome for this isolation, which goes in on premeditated expectations of message through vision, and none of it ever feels natural. Inside finds that there is only so much you can do with a sole actor, even one as good as Willem Dafoe, when a director has little vision for the actions of his star.