Berlinale 2023 Review: INSIDE, Heist Drama Turns Into Something Else
Willem Dafoe wrecks a luxury apartment, creating conceptual art in a bid for survival in director Vasilis Katsoupis' feature-length fiction debut.
Greek documentarist Vasilis Katsoupis switched to fiction filmmaking with his feature-length fiction debut, Inside.
Labeled as a psychological thriller starring Willem Dafoe (Antichrist, The Lighthouse), Inside transcends genre boundaries. The movie could have been characterized as a philosophical thriller or an art and late capitalism satire.
Inside is an ambitious debut, co-produced by the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Greece. The story unfolds in a single luxurious Manhattan penthouse, furnished and decorated with modern and classical art. Dafoe takes on an art thief called Nemo, who is tasked with lifting several of Egon Schiele's oeuvres.
The heist goes awry. Nemo remains confined inside the meticulously designed and awe-inspiringly equipped penthouse stronghold. And he is at the mercy of a malfunctioning smart-home device.
The adrenaline tempo of the opening action slows down into a ruminative rhythm, as Nemo tries to figure out his way out of the gilded cage. In a post-pandemic world, Inside becomes an ingenious lockdown drama and existentialist satire simultaneously.
The pursuit of art and then survival becomes a one-man show, with Dafoe putting on a stellar performance in an intertwined cycle of destruction and creation. He goes all in regarding intellectual and physical display, as the apartment becomes his sandbox, biological functions not excluded.
Production designer Thorsten Sabel (Cloud Atlas, Babylon Berlin) built a gorgeous high-end playground for Dafoe, an art gallery rather than a human dwelling. Aseptic and too flawless to be lived in, akin to an interior designer's porn, Nemo is forced by the circumstances to employ savvy and improvisation. And he redoes the sterile environment with fauvist brushes.
Katsoupis's fiction feature-length debut becomes an inverted version of reality shows Survivor or Naked and Afraid, a claustrophobic escape room amidst contemplations on rituals, sanity, and art.
With the lockdown understory and a critique of capitalism, Katsoupis blends the high, low, and pop while leaving enough leeway for interpretation. The film remains widely accessible to a diverse audience.
While it´s the Greek director's fiction debut, and he is the mastermind behind the story idea, with Ben Hopkins penning the script, Inside becomes more of an auterial effort for Dafoe. The film creates a trilogy of Dafoe's head trips, alongside director Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth and Siberia.
The pre-apocalyptic apartment lockdown story 4:44 Last Day on Earth shares the form, while the psychoanalytic surreal solo venture Siberia is similar in topic, with the protagonist locked inside his unconsciousness and left to his own devices. The spiritual trilogy creates an intriguing dialogue between the installments with Dafoe in the center.
The simplistic idea in the heart of Inside is tackled by the veteran actor and developed by the team of Katsoupis and Hopkins into a transcendental experience, crowned with the lead character's literal and figurative ascension.
Inside is as playful as it is contemplative, surpassing genre limitations, and leaving the audience to their own devices following the protagonist, while the film becomes a sandbox on its own.