'Inside' review: They're never finding Nemo

Willem Dafoe is an accidental homebody in this anxiety-inducing new drama.  

Willem Dafoe in "Inside"
Focus Features

If you’re looking for an actor to carry a movie by himself for 105 minutes, Willem Dafoe is your guy. He stars as Nemo in “Inside," a tense one-man show about an art heist gone wrong. 

Nemo, just before breaking into a New York penthouse, lets the audience know his principles in a voiceover: “Cats die, music fades, but art is for keeps.” Soon, Nemo might as well be for keeps. The straightforward in-and-out robbery to nab millions of dollars in paintings goes south as he tries to exit the apartment. The security system goes haywire, the place locks down and Nemo’s associate abandons him. Getting into the place was easy; getting out may be literally impossible.  

The wealthy art collector owner is out of the country, so there’s little food in the fridge and, even worse, no running water. The walls are thick, the windows are seemingly impenetrable, there are no vents to crawl through and nobody from a security company or even building maintenance is coming to check on the place. To sweeten the pot, Nemo broke the air conditioning system while frantically shutting off the alarm, so now the penthouse is blowing increasingly warm, then increasingly cold air. What’s a lonely Willem Dafoe to do? 

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Your enjoyment of “lnside,” of course, will depend on your tolerance of a one-person film that relies on the performance of a single actor; “Locke,” “Oxygen” and “Buried” are a few relatively recent examples that come to mind, but even those use a little more voice acting from additional cast members to help advance the story and main character’s arc. Here, it’s just Dafoe and closed-circuit security footage, as he watches the goings on of folks in the building who are beyond his screams for help.  

“Inside” is an arthouse film about, well, art and class, though director Vasilis Katsoupis and writer Ben Hopkins focus the actual plot beats on Nemo’s ingenuity of escape and survival. In that sense, the movie is at times exciting and even thrilling.  

The cinematography from Steve Annis and score by Frederik van de Moortel are both captivating and help keep the movie humming along, but it’s ultimately Dafoe who, out of necessity, held my attention for the full runtime. As little as the audience knows about Nemo, and as sparse of dialogue Dafoe has outside of muttering to himself, he forms a fully developed character who is more fascinating to observe than any of the artwork decorating the penthouse that becomes his prison.