Nemo (Willem Dafoe) is frantic.  Although he’s found two works by Egon Schiele in the brutalist modern NYC penthouse he’s robbing, he’s been unable to locate the self portrait valued at $3 million.  But as his number two man warns him over the intercom that time is running short, he finds he has a far more serious problem – the alarm system goes haywire and he is locked “Inside.”

Laura's Review: B-

Director Vasilis Katsoupis had an idea about art for his first narrative feature, one expanded into a screenplay by Ben Hopkins that seems to climb down the ladder of psychologist Abraham Maslow's levels of human need from creativity to survival.  Nemo isn’t just in the art heist business, he’s a true believer, telling us that when he was asked as a child what three things he would save from a fire, he chose a sketchbook, an ACDC album and his cat, Groucho.  Later he would realize that ‘cats die and music fades but art is for keeps.’ 

Isn’t music art?  Katsoupis’s themes are as clear as the water in the indoor feature Nemo begins to use as a toilet, but his film does work as one of those single-trapped-human-fighting-for-survival movies, like “All Is Lost.”  Nemo will face temperature extremes, lack of food and water and access to basic hygiene as he pines for companionship, obsessively watching building housecleaner Jasmine (Eliza Stuyck) on security cameras when he isn’t imagining attending one of the owner’s (Gene Bervoets) video installation parties.  A pigeon, trapped like Nemo but on the other side of locked glass door to a balcony, will also be a source of companionship for a while.

Over time, and the film would have us believe no one would check this apartment for months on end, even after it is flooded by fire sprinklers, the owner’s apartment will be largely destroyed as Nemo looks for way to escape.  He’ll hack chunks out of an ornately carved, heavy antique wooden door and destroy art piece furniture building a 20 some-odd foot tower toward skylights in the ceiling, an image that recalls the end of Michael Hanaeke’s 1989 debut film, “The Seventh Continent,” another movie with dire consequences for a large tropical fish aquarium.  He’ll amuse himself donning ‘The Moth,’ a costume by Kosovan installation artist Petrit Halilaj (the film features a mix of real art works and originals created for it), and relate to ‘Centro di permanenza temporanea,’ a photograph of an airline stairway full of people with no plane in sight.

And yes, Nemo still has that sketchbook he’d mentioned in the film’s opening moments, one he uses to draw portraits of Jasmine before using a wall for something more elaborate, one which he labels with a note apologizing for the destruction but declaring it a necessary precursor to creation.   

Production designer Thorsten Sabel has created an open yet elaborate space for Nemo’s adventures, a secret panel in a closet leading to something like a tomb with a copy of William Blake’s 18th century ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,’ more grist for Katsoupis’s mill.  Dafoe, an actor whose face could have been engraved by Albrecht Dürer and whose physique is that of a dancer, maintains our interest in Nemo’s predicament and the emotional journey it dictates.  It is his performance, not Katsoupis’s ideas about art that drives the film.

Robin's Review: B

Nemo (Willem Dafoe) is the front man for a high end art theft ring. He breaks into a posh penthouse that is abundant in valuable paintings and artwork. On a very tight time schedule, things go very well, until they do not, “Inside.”

With the countdown clock ticking, the thief begins to assemble the most valuable paintings and discovers that the most lucrative work, a self-portrait, is not there. The time is just about up and Nemo enters the exit code - but it does not work. Suddenly, an alarm blares and the penthouse locks down and, he soon discovers, that there is no way out.

This begins a story of survival – no water, temperature fluxing up and down dramatically and the little food that is there is running out – and imagination as the art stealer must figure out how to escape an escape-proof fortress. This aspect is the meat of the story as he must cope with the above burdens and try to get out, all the while in a posh and hostile environment.

I had a few problems as, in his effort to escape, he does things like triggering the fire alarm and setting off the sprinklers. Keep in mind, he has access to the building’s CC monitors and can see the manned front desk. But the alarm and penthouse-flooding sprinkler system do not trigger an alarm at the security desk? Inconsistencies like this bug me and take me out of the film’s moments.

Willem Dafoe does do a fine job with his one-man performance that is a ball of tension as he is stopped at every turn from escaping. That does not stop him from trying as he deals with his desperate plight and crushing boredom. It is a challenging character study and Dafoe is up to its demands

Focus Features opens "Inside" in theaters on 3/17/23.