Review by Nicholas Porteous for Mr. Will Wong
Willem Dafoe is an Art Thief who finds himself trapped in a rich man’s high rise apartment after a heist gone wrong, but his fears quickly turn from whether he’ll be caught to whether he’ll ever be found–sealed in a cage with limited supplies, next to no plumbing, and absolutely zero sense of when or even if its owner might return.
Inside opens with a provocative voiceover from Dafoe about the nature of art, and his unhealthy relationship with it. I felt like the Movie was priming me for a character study, but any further monologues of substance–internal or otherwise, are absent from most of the rest of the Film. Though we spend 100% of the runtime with Dafoe, I can’t say I left the theatre with a strong sense of his character. Beyond Dafoe‘s typically magnetic presence, the Script doesn’t go out of its way to bring us into his mind. Imagine Cast Away and take away Wilson, giving our hero little to no reason to express himself out loud.
Okay, forget the Character Study. Maybe it’s more of a strikingly original survival story. The apartment is controlled by malfunctioning devices which haven’t been calibrated for a human occupant. There’s no running water–from a tap at least–the fridge is almost bare, and the temperature cannot be turned down. The doors are sealed and soundproofed. How long can Dafoe stay alive? His struggle is captivating, but keeping it entirely on the surface inevitably drags the pace down to a lurch. Despite being a trim 105 minutes, you could have told me Inside was two and half hours and I would have believed you.
So maybe the agonizing journey is the point? Inside is definitely a slow cinema experience. Watching it at home, or getting distracted at any moment threatens to undo its whole spell. While we can’t be expected to fully engage with Dafoe psychologically, we are meant to feel the tactile sensations of his miserable, indefinite sentence. On that level, I found Inside very successful. It’s gorgeously-shot, and rife with haunting, unpredictable imagery. I could feel the heat emanating from the ceiling vents, and smell the dog food. There are more than a couple of moments that have lingered in my mind days after seeing it, and that feels very in line with its fascinating and spiritual use of art. Dafoe encounters many paintings, video installations, potential art objects, and creates his own art throughout.
Inside invites the audience to create art themselves, doing a lot of the heavy lifting of characterization and filling in the gaps of Dafoe‘s voyage. I don’t think this makes for great Cinema, and I personally wish there was more meat on the bones of this story, but perhaps the experience of Inside qualifies it as an evocative video installation unto itself. The tagline–“a solitary exhibition” couldn’t be more apt.
Focus Features and Universal Pictures Canada release INSIDE March 17, 2023.
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