Caught this one on Encore Suspense tonight. A 2004 film, The I Inside was directed by Roland Suso Richter, and is apparently his first English-language film. It looks like it had some film festival debuts, but was otherwise not granted a theatrical release, going straight to video.
The film is of the “mind screw” variety of suspense movies, starring Ryan Phillippe as Simon Cable, a man who awakens in a hospital in 2002 after nearly dying from an accidental poisoning. His doctor, Jeremy Newman (Stephen Rea) runs him through some standard tests, and they discover that Simon has lost the last two years of his memories. He doesn’t remember the death of his brother, Peter (Robert Sean Leonard), and has no recollection of his wife, Anna (Piper Perabo). He’s equally confused about the presence of another woman, Clair (Sarah Polley) who seems to have much more affection for him than his wife does.
Dr. Newman insists that Simon’s memory will return to normal in the course of few days, and as Simon tries to piece together his life, he starts having flashbacks to two years prior. Only, he’s not remembering, exactly. He’s literally finding himself bodily transported to the year 2000, in the same hospital, after being in a traffic accident with his brother. While it helps him to start figure out what happened in his missing years, he quickly becomes confused as to which time is the real one, and just what is going on with him. And then he starts to wonder if his interactions with the past can be more than merely informative.
Movies that like to mess with the mind of the audience can be difficult to review; even once everything has been revealed, and you’ve pieced it together, it’s hard to discuss with anybody who hasn’t seen it. The fun of the movie is in the surprise, so anything beyond the basic premise constitutes an important spoiler and should be avoided. Suffice to say that, as far as the plot goes, The I Inside kept me entertained and intrigued all the way through, but — as is a very common risk with the “mind screw” genre — I felt like it flubbed the ending a bit. Thematically, it fits, it’s obvious in retrospect that’s where the script was headed. It’s just unsatisfying, and rather too familiar. I think a different ending could have been used without invalidating the theme of the film, and it wouldn’t have left me feeling “Oh, not this old chestnut again” the way the actual ending did. Director Richter did a good job for the most part, with solid choices of camera angles, lighting, and scene cuts, though I felt the use of angle distortion in a hallucination scene was a bit corny.
Regarding the acting, the film had a small cast of minor actors who all did fairly well with the roles they were provided. Some weren’t really given much to work with due to their limited screen time — Robert Sean Leonard in particular doesn’t get much considering the overall importance of his character, but he has a good scene in the last few minutes of the film. Stephen Rea and Peter Egan both turn in decent, if minor, performances as the doctors tending Simon in the two time frames, with Egan seeming more like a traditional doctor and Rea coming across as the pediatrician his character normally serves as. Sarah Polley mostly plays the standard “nice girl”, but does a credible job of making it seem like there might be more personality to the character than we see here.
The two stand-out roles here are Phillippe and Perabo. Ryan Phillippe is very convincing as Simon, as he zig-zags from confused, to frightened, to angry over his circumstances. He doesn’t know who to trust, or what’s going on, what year it really is, or even if he can trust himself, and all of that comes through in Phillippe’s performance. Piper Perabo is fantastic as Anna. Initially, in 2002, we see Anna as someone who appears loving in public, but turns cold-hearted and vicious in private. When we flash back to 2000, Anna is shy and mousy. And as time flips back and forth, we see her as manipulative, and downright sociopathic. And never once does Perabo’s acting strike a false note; not only does she convincingly play each persona of Anna, but she seamlessly slides in and out of them, and shows that all these disparate faces are indeed the same person.
There’s a lot to like about this movie, but I’m a person who has to have a good ending to a good film. I didn’t feel that The I Inside quite delivered in that regard. So in the final assessment, what could have been a pretty good film — or even a great film with some revisions here and there — wound up being just “OK”.