San Francisco Chronicle

‘Inside’ is a crime against its audience

- By Mick LaSalle Reach Mick LaSalle: mlasalle@sfchronicl­

Watching “Inside” is like being stuck inside a house, unable to escape.

No, it’s worse than that. It’s like being stuck inside a house, unable to escape, and Willem Dafoe is there with you. And not Willem Dafoe the movie star, but a version that eats dog food and defecates in the corner. He’s been there for a while, too, because that pile — the one in the corner that he keeps contributi­ng to — is getting bigger.

That pile can be seen as a metaphor for the movie itself.

What on earth was director Vasilis Katsoupis thinking? Yes, it’s possible to imagine a filmmaker arriving at “Inside” as a concept: It’s about an art thief who gets stuck inside a house with lots of paintings and can’t leave — for months.

Yet somewhere in the journey from concept to realizatio­n, someone should have thought enough of the audience to ask, “Why would anyone want to watch this? Why should anyone want to watch this?” It’s one thing to conceive of a torture chamber and quite another to build one in the naive expectatio­n that people will want to strap in for two hours.

As the movie begins, Nemo (Dafoe), an art thief, is in a luxury apartment at the end of yet another spectacula­r heist. Then something goes wrong: The doors lock, and he can’t get out. He tries and he tries, and then he tries and he tries, but he can’t free himself.

At least he maintains hope, which the audience does not. We know two things that Nemo doesn’t — namely, that he’s in a movie and movies are at least 80 minutes long, which means that it’ll take at least that long for Nemo to get free. Even worse for Nemo, he’s not just in a regular movie but a pretentiou­s art film. He’s bound to wait even longer.

What follows is a tale of survival about a fellow whose fate is a matter of absolute indifferen­ce to anyone watching. We watch as a series of calamities and near calamities befall our hero: There’s something wrong with the heater. The apartment becomes very hot. He’s sweating. Then — oh no — it becomes very cold. He’s shivering. Then he’s thirsty, but there’s no water. What will he do? Maybe he’ll die.

That would be different: The protagonis­t dies just 30 minutes in and then it’s nothing but decomposit­ion for the next 75 minutes. No, but why waste these great ideas on one movie? That could be the sequel!

Of course, just the act of describing “Inside” imposes a sort of order on it and makes it sound a lot more eventful than it is. Mostly, the movie is just scene after scene of Dafoe stumbling around mumbling to himself. It’s a credit to the childlike faith of actors that Dafoe could think anyone could be interested.

“Inside” is the first feature film of director Katsoupis, who, let’s hope, got it out of his system. He had the idea for the film, and screenwrit­er Ben Hopkins wrote the screenplay, all 20 or 30 lines of it.

In addition to the crimes against the audience, the movie shows an exotic fish getting suffocated, and a pigeon being maimed. Perhaps the injuries to these creatures were fake, but with a movie this awful, one does have to wonder.

 ?? Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features ?? Willem Dafoe stars in “Inside,” an experiment­al film directed by Vasilis Katsoupis.
Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features Willem Dafoe stars in “Inside,” an experiment­al film directed by Vasilis Katsoupis.

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