A thief (Willem Dafoe) has plenty of time to figure out the true value of art when he’s locked down with it interminably 



Source: Focus Features


Dir: Vasilis Katsoupis. Greece/Germany/Belgium. 2023. 105 mins.

It’s a precision-engineered crime: a hi-tech raid on a billionaire art collector’s New York penthouse apartment. The aim is to carry off the cream of the collection, including an Egon Schiele self-portrait. The first suggestion that something might not go according to plan is the fact that the coveted Schiele painting is not where it should be. The second hint is the catastrophic malfunction of the security system which locks down the space, with thief Nemo (Willem Dafoe), helplessly imprisoned in the ultimate gilded cage.

Does a painting still sustain the soul when you have no food to sustain the body?

Nemo expects a security team to visit. Or a cleaner. Or even the owner. But days stretch into months, and Nemo must rely on his ingenuity to survive. The feature debut from Vasilis Katsoupis, Inside is set up as a psychological thriller/escape movie, but evolves into something rather more intriguing: a philosophical interrogation of the value of art to a dying man. Does a painting still sustain the soul when you have no food to sustain the body? Is simply staying alive the ultimate creative act? 

Written by Ben Hopkins and based on an original idea by Katsoupis, on paper Inside has a loose kinship with single-location, single-actor thrillers such as Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth and Scott Mann’s Fall. But unlike the immediate threats in those pictures – the sniper in Phone Booth, the marauding vultures and the 2000 ft drop in Fall – Nemo must contend with a slowly creeping existential dread, a crumbling of his psyche along with everything that he values. As such, audience expectation management may be useful before a quick post-Berlin launch in the US through Focus on March 17; Bankside holds international rights. This is no taut nail-biter driven by nervous tension, but rather an occasionally comic, slow-burning war of attrition waged on Nemo by the exquisitely tasteful apartment that holds him prisoner. And it works rather well, with Dafoe an increasingly demented presence, destroying the artworks he once valued above all else and creating his own mixed media installation telling the story of his desperate attempts to escape. 

But before he can think about getting out, Nemo must find the basics of survival. And since the IT malfunction that crashed the security system also wiped out the other essentials – the water supply for example – Nemo must rely on his own ingenuity. The meagre contents of the fridge must be augmented somehow (the camera pans back to the tropical fish tank every so often: clown fish sashimi will inevitably feature on the menu sooner or later). 

Key to the picture’s success is the way that different elements seem to be in dialogue with each other. The apartment is an elegant, minimal space, and the score, by Frederik Van de Moortel, is equally airy and sparse. The artworks, particularly the projections in the dedicated video installation room, are echoed by the CCTV surveillance channels that Nemo can access on a huge flat-screen television. As time passes (we get a sense of just how much time by the accumulation of faeces in the bath – the water supply issues have a disastrous knock-on effect on the plumbing), Nemo develops one-sided relationships with the staff that he watches through the CCTV footage. These are lives lived tantalisingly close to his own, but sealed off by the steel doors and impenetrable security. So near, but so very, very far. 

Production companies: Heretic; Schiwago, A Private View

International sales: Bankside films@bankside-films.com

Producers: Giorgos Karnavas, Marcos Kantis, Dries Phlypo

Screenplay: Ben Hopkins

Cinematography: Steven Annis

Production design: Thorsten Sabel

Editing: Lambis Haralambidis

Music: Frederik Van de Moortel

Main cast: Willem Dafoe, Gene Bervoets, Eliza Stuyck