COVID-19 did a lot of things to people; one of which has to be, allowing filmmakers to think outside the box (or within the box if you may). With the implied restraint on the scope of cinematic wavelength, some brave filmmakers truly embraced the format of letting their stories play out on a miniature scale. While the outcome has been polarizing, like most of art, it has been truly awe-inspiring to see these chamber pieces take us on a journey within. With ‘Lost Inside,’ Jeff Hindenach tries to do much of the same with mixed results.
We begin with Benji Williams (Spencer Scruggs), a washed-up rockstar who has closeted himself inside his apartment after the fame got to him. It has been 5 years since he left home and has become agoraphobic – a condition that doesn’t allow him to have in-person social interaction because of the fear of getting overwhelmed by the panic that comes with dealing with a rush of sudden emotions.
So, he has resorted to keeping it to himself; his companions being some video calls with his therapist, the random talk he has with the ashes of his deceased mother (which is usually perched in a pot on his living room table), and the video games that he plays in between exercising and trying to conjure up the energy to go out.
However, that routine is about to break. The reasons being the sudden appearance of a man named Jordan Tyler (Garret Ryan) who constantly pushes him to try his best to come out of it. Of course Jordan is an extension of his subconscious that is relying on the human instinct of trying to survive, but director Hindennach also uses him as a Ryan Reynolds kind of persona who is cheeky enough to irritate him, but also manipulative enough to let him take the steps he needs to in order to get over his fears.
However, Jordan is not really the one that is helping him, there’s also Sylvia (Serra Naiman), his new neighbor from across the hall who is just the type of sweet and nosy person he needs right now. Slyvia is a self-doubting young woman who uses her over-indulgent energy to understand Benji. And while things initially feel quite stilted, the two of them being close acquaintances where Benji starts to open up; until more things come to the surface.
Now, coming to the film itself, Lost Inside’s look at mental health and trying to process the grief and sadness that resides within anxious individuals is well-done. Hindenach does understand that getting over one’s fears is not a cakewalk. So, he allows Benji to heal slowly, taking one step forward and two steps back if needed. However, some of these steps are predictably put into place making this story feel quite staged.
It also doesn’t help that Spencer Scruggs, who is supposed to be the center of this story isn’t very good at playing this character. He is neither able to make his washed-up rockstar persona feel believable, nor does he make a person suffering from anxiety feel palpable. His unconvincing performance also comes from a place where this feels more like a stage play with dialogues that don’t come from a real place and are instead read from a teleprompter.
Garret Ryan is initially pretty irritating, but once it gets to the more tricky parts of the narrative, he is convincing in being an alter-ego for Benji. Making his role feel like a little more than just comedy relief, which is always a good thing in my book. The real, MVP of this indie film, however, is Serra Naiman’s magnetic presence as Sylvia. She is able to give enough weight to this woman, to make you understand where she comes from, in spite of the limited time she is on screen. She is the one who makes this romance instantly sweet and well-earned, in the face of all the cliches just lying one step away from her.
Flaws and all aside, Lost Inside works because of its inclination towards being extremely sensitive with the subject it is dealing with. And that’s a step I’d like more indie romances to take.