Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve seen movies about isolation, and we’ve seen movies with survival stories. However, as best I can remember, this is the first survival story about a guy isolated and trapped in an ultra-luxury Manhattan penthouse apartment. Ben Hopkins wrote the screenplay from an idea of director Vasilis Katsoupis. The best idea was casting the always interesting Willem Dafoe in the lead (and almost the only role), while the worst idea was wedging in a forced statement on the one-percenters.
Mr. Dafoe plays Nemo, an art thief working with a never-seen/only heard walkie-talkie partner. After being air-dropped onto the balcony via helicopter, the first few minutes are a thing of beauty in a criminally precise way. Nemo swiftly navigates his way through the apartment gathering paintings by famed expressionist Egon Schiele, whose self-portrait is to be the gem of the haul. The first problem is that painting is nowhere to be found, and the second, much more serious problem occurs when Nemo is ready to leave and the security system malfunctions. This renders Nemo a prisoner, trapped like a rat.
This is the type of apartment that features a plunge pool in the living room, two massive aquariums, a steel-reinforced door, and an automatic indoor sprinkler system for the plants. Valuable art is professional displayed throughout. What it doesn’t have is an easy escape route. The sleek modernism of luxury slowly transforms into a cold, prison-like fortress. We watch as Nemo’s initial panic is slowly overtaken by a sinking feeling of despair. His partner’s final walkie-talkie words, “You’re on your own”, ring out as Nemo takes stock of his dire straits.
It’s an unusual security lockdown. There is no running water, phone line, or emergency escape, yet the HVAC seems to have a mind of its own by spontaneously shifting from desert-level heat to Arctic winter cold. And for some reason, there seem to be no security cameras inside this high-tech apartment, yet the TV periodically displays closed-circuit video from around the building. Those cameras give Nemo his only link to the outside world, and also help us understand how far he has drifted from reality … especially in regards to Jasmine, a cleaning lady he spots. He scavenges for food and water in some not-so-appealing ways, including some scraps inside a refrigerator that plays “Macarena” on full blast if the door is left open too long. Although we aren’t told exactly how many days this ordeal lasts, we get some idea from a certain pile shown.
Any movie that has us engaged enough for us to ask ourselves, “What would I do in this situation?” has something going for it, but it’s really Dafoe’s performance as a guy losing his grip that keeps us zoned in. Supposedly the owner of this apartment is away in Kazakhstan, and given the weak attempt towards the end to comment on the ultra-rich, we assume this detail is meant to prevent us from having too much sympathy for him. It appears the filmmaker believes we should take a morality lesson from a criminal (one who doesn’t carry a cell phone) who, as the narrator, tells us twice, “Cats die. Music fades. Art is for keeps.”
Opens in theaters on March 17, 2023