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Painted Into a Corner

Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features

Inside (2023)

It's tough to imagine a movie about a man (Willem Dafoe) trapped in an apartment not immediately drawing pandemic parallels, but “Inside” is such a compelling puzzle that it takes a while for the metaphor, if that is what it is, to become apparent. This is more about how art helps you survive when the immediate necessities, like running water and windows that open, are denied you. Instead there's a refrigerator that plays “Macarena” when you leave the door open too long and a collection of modern art so impressive it's listed in the credits. If you have to be trapped, it might as well be in the nicest apartment anyone has ever seen, but still, it's no way to live.

Mr. Dafoe’s unnamed art thief was dropped into that skyscraper penthouse in New York City to lift some Egon Schieles. The owner is away on an extended business trip, so getting in and out unnoticed should be no problem, as Mr. Dafoe reports on his walkie-talkie. But one of the paintings isn't where it used to be. Suddenly, huge awful sirens blare, and as the thief panics the voice on the walkie-talkie tells him he's on his own. But no external alarms were tripped, just the smart controls chose that moment to malfunction. Mr. Dafoe manages to smash the speakers and in the quiet has the awful realization he's been sealed in. The windows are thick, unbreakable glass. The only door, under an elaborately carved wooden panel, is metal. The thermostat has a mind of its own; and the toilet doesn’t flush. There's nothing but caviar and other fancy party snacks in the fridge. Despite that horrendous alarm, the police don't come. Help doesn't, either.

It was quite an idea by director Vasilis Katsoupis to restage “The Martian” in the hostile environment of bottomless wealth. Mr. Dafoe's thief is no dumbass. He recognizes a Pritzker medal on sight and passes much time studying the unbelievable art collection and sketching it for himself. He also repeatedly nearly kills himself building a tower of furniture in an attempt to attack the only possible escape: the ceiling vent, which is at least 30 feet up, among other problems. Fortunately for everyone there's a vegetation area on automatic sprinklers, which mercifully limits the scenes of Mr. Dafoe licking the inside of the freezer for every last morsel of condensation. But as time passes and Mr. Dafoe’s only interactions are with a pigeon slowly dying on the balcony and the doormen and cleaners he can see on the CCTV, we have plenty of time to ponder what multimillionaire bothers to switch off the utilities before going away. More importantly, who would cancel their cleaners? Someone who lives this magnificently would almost certainly have a housekeeper-chauffeur couple, or maybe a couple of armed guards, minding the art collection in his absence.

Ignoring that plot point, “Inside” is a magnificent reminder of the creepy, unpredictable capabilities of Mr. Dafoe, whose wild intelligence and willingness to go for broke carries everything with ease, and whose appeal undoubtedly helped bring the movie to the Berlinale. But there’s just not enough here to make the revisiting of 2020, even in a staging this fresh, worth our precious time. Maybe go for a walk instead.


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