Right after watching the trailer for Vasilis Katsoupis’ newest psychological thriller, I knew I had to see it. Starring the iconic Willem Dafoe, it’s centered around an art thief, Nemo, who gets trapped in the apartment he’s supposed to burglarize. Facing starvation, thirst and the madness that comes with being completely alone, what we see is not just a man unraveling, but his very sense of the world coming apart at the seams. Art is a central element of this movie, but not in the way you think; here, art is placed within a political and social context. In modern society, what is art but another commodity? How can we move beyond that? These are the questions at the heart of the film, and they’re explored magnificently throughout its runtime.
I can already hear the complaints about this movie, and I don’t necessarily think they’re invalid arguments. Its pacing is brutally slow at times, and the general lack of dialogue can be jarring for some; I’ve even heard one critic say this is an endurance test for viewers. Personally, I found these aspects of the film to be really interesting ways of emphasizing Nemo’s isolation. We’re made to sit in these moments with him, really feeling the gravity of what it means to not have access to water or food, or the company of other people.
There’s also something to be said about the pacing being a kind of metacommentary on how audiences interact with art—rather, how we consume art. We always expect everything to be fast-paced, convenient, consumable, and I appreciate how the movie resists that. This interest in art and audience first becomes clear in the movie’s early scenes, when Nemo’s grabbing as many paintings as he can, calculating how much each is worth but not really appreciating the pieces themselves. The rest of the film uses drawn-out, sometimes repetitive sequences to make us think about how we’re no different than this art thief. Maybe that’s why we don’t go too deep into his backstory; in a way, it turns him into a kind of everyman, one who’s brought to life by a phenomenal acting performance.
As usual, we get Dafoe is a real powerhouse. It’s amazing how, with less than 10 minutes of dialogue in the whole film, he’s able to convey so much about a character’s inner world. Because of this lack of speaking, physicality essentially becomes our only window into this character, and Dafoe embodies his struggle with a level of commitment that's downright scary. His face is wildly expressive, almost constantly wracked by pain and fear. Watching him shuffle through the ruined upscale apartment, we come to understand the shallow, capitalistic materialism that got him in this situation as being endemic to modern society. We’re all trapped by individualistic greed, either ours or someone else’s—a lesson Nemo learns the hard way after his co-conspirators abandon him once he’s locked inside. This sense of being trapped is highlighted by the visuals.
The camera is typically still, only moving via dolly zooms or slow pans, emphasizing the slow pacing and forced stillness that comes with being confined. Despite all the art around Nemo, there’s an abundance of cool grey from the walls’ exposed concrete, making it clear this place may be a home for the rich family who’s away on holiday, but for Nemo this is a gilded prison. The sound design reflects this alienation, emphasizing echoes and silence. Lighting is often cold and harsh, evoking the panic and instability of the situation. It’s enough to make audiences feel as if there’s no way out, as if we too are trapped with no escape—until the ending.
In his farewell letter to the place’s owners, Nemo apologizes for destroying the apartment, then wonders if it perhaps needed to be destroyed. “What’s creation without a little destruction?” he asks, and his disembodied voice makes it seem as though the question’s directed at us. It’s here that we come to understand there is no way to escape the system while keeping it intact. We must tear it down, brick by brick. The ending seems to have closure, but it’s not exactly clear, and I appreciated that nuance. It's as if Katsoupis is reminding us that whether or not we escape this system is up to us. It’s a compelling, disturbing, wild ride of a movie. Catch it in theaters while you can! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations and access to free giveaways!