As humans age, intrinsic life lessons recess further into our memories so that they are only a glimmer. It is not until we’re again faced with the possibility of those life lessons that we remember them with great clarity. Such are the trials that Nemo (Willem Dafoe) meets in a riveting fashion in Vasilis Katsoupis’ Inside.

The dynamism of Inside is the command with which Dafoe plays Nemo, an art thief looking for a big score. His only connection to the outside world is through voice contact with a partner over the radio. However, his life lessons, provided through a voiceover at the film’s start, inform us of his values as an adult. Vasilis Katsoupis’ direction is steady, focusing on Dafoe, yet Inside feels one-dimensional within a labyrinthine penthouse of a high-end art collector.

Based on Katsoupis’ story, Ben Hopkins’ (Lost in Karastan) script traps Nemo within the confines and trappings of ultra-modernism, in which Nemo descends into his own pit of hell. Nemo doesn’t give up, even as the automated systems that keep the home safe and secure work against the art thief.

Dafoe imbues Nemo with a tactile feeling. As the character slowly begins to break down after getting trapped, first from heat, then from ice, Nemo starts to appreciate life’s little ironies, a housekeeper, sustenance, another life, and basic survival. Yet, as each challenge presents itself, Dafoe, Nemo, and the audience try to figure out a way out of this puzzle box.

Inside is Katsoupis’ feature directorial debut, and the inexperience is felt. This is not to say that Inside is not a good movie – Dafoe’s performance would cast that suggestion in doubt rather quickly. The story’s ideas and themes are strongly felt, locked under an overly steady surface, even if they lurk or are omnipresent rather than straightforward. For this reviewer, the themes present in the film are strong, yet it still feels one-note. Dafoe dynamically drives the elements that drive the film, the actor bringing his considerable experience to bear.

Under the steady surface sits the setting for the story, a cement-walled penthouse with curves, light flooding in from floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights, water, and flat surfaces would be stark on their appearance. The art adorning the walls suggests an unsettled feeling as Nemo explores his prison, almost like a tomb, as a malfunctioning security system keeps Nemo at bay, putting him to the ultimate test.

The art adorning the walls represents someone else’s life lived from Nemo’s perspective, driving the narrative. Nemo is not entirely helpless, and Dafoe acquits himself, artfully crafting a mechanism to attempt to get through a skylight at least two stories high. It is as if Nemo is trying to free himself from Dante’s Inferno – and even though the home is not alive, the art makes it so.

Steve Annis’ cinematography plays an essential role in that regard. Using his entire canvas, the natural elements are as much a factor in the imagery as the manufactured ones. From lighting, as days and weeks pass by, to the hope that Nemo can escape, the life lessons Nemo learned as a child bubble up to the surface, even as his life choices cause the here-and-now to crumble about him. The narrative reinforces this idea through the same voiceover at the beginning as in the end.

As a character, we can relate to Nemo. Willem Dafoe is, quite literally, the heart and soul of Inside. The deeper, darker heart that Vasilis Katsoupis asks of us is not as easy to unpack without looking inside ourselves. While Inside is bold and daring in the drama department, it is only so because of Dafoe’s superb performance.



Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis

Screenplay by Ben Hopkins

Story by Vasilis Katsoupis

Starring Willem David, Gene Bervoets, Eliza Stuyck



R, 105 mins, Focus Features