Lost Inside (2022) Review: I don’t expect rom-coms to portray mental health right because they automatically bring along the expectation that the problems will find a resolution by the end of the film, almost hand in glove with the protagonists’ reconciliation about their love for each other. The honeydew attitudes of a romcom don’t fit a mental health drama, yet, by the time I had finished watching this film, I was smiling ear-to-ear because I couldn’t believe that they had almost managed to keep the balance from tipping, albeit not without flaws.
Lost Inside, written and directed by Jeff Hindenach, is a quiet and polite Indie rom-com that is not too full of fanfare and big gestures. It ticks all the boxes of a rom-com yet keeps from being the most predictable thing you will have seen in the world of primarily high-end Netflix romances.
Benji Williams (played by Spencer Scruggs) is a musician who rose to fame but decided to close himself off from the world in his apartment for five years. He seems to be agoraphobic, a person with a type of anxiety disorder in which they choose to avoid places and situations that might lead to stress and panic. Benji avoids stepping outside his apartment because the outside world is scary for him. He seems to be in constant communication and company with an imaginary friend, Jordan Tylor (played by Garret Ryan), whom his psyche has concocted, one who seems to be his cheerleader to try to overcome his fear of the outside world.
One day, a woman named Sylvia, played by Serra Naiman, moves into the apartment across the hall from Benji. She is mindful of Benji’s agoraphobia and doesn’t recognize him as the superstar sheltered from the world. But things are not quite as they appear on the surface. Who is Sylvia, and how does she not know about Benji despite belonging to the Internet Generation? It is more predictable than you’d like it to be, but that doesn’t contribute negatively to the film.
Lost Inside doesn’t shy away from trying to paint a picture of the road to recovery, which is full of speed-breakers. The film looks like just the right thing to have been shot in the middle of a pandemic in San Francisco. It sticks to the indoors of Benji’s apartment, and on the rare occasions when it decides to step out, the world around seems sparsely populated. The former is essential to understand how reclusive Benji’s life is. Luckily, the film doesn’t hurry into any action. It dwells on dialogues with Benji’s imaginary friend, door-to-door movie screenings, and some indoor games.
Mental health is a sensitive subject and is bound to draw in some criticism unless you are portraying it with perfection. Benji’s character constantly reminded me of a similar performance by Ali Fazal in one of the many forgettable Netflix dramas, House Arrest (2019). Directors Samit Basu and Shashanka Ghosh had tried but miserably failed at building a comedy out of Fazal’s character, but the portrayal of agoraphobia was on point.
I must mention here that most films that have portrayed characters with agoraphobia tend to be thrillers or horrors. That way, Lost Inside is a fresh break from the tradition. In this film, Hindenach tries his best to adorn the character of Benji with the traits of an anxious person – short, quick breaths when he has to fetch the delivery, physical discomfort, shivers when he is touched, etc. The nuances go for a toss, probably because there’s so much story to tell in less than 100 minutes. However, it is Scruggs’ below-mediocre performance that makes Benji’s character appear like a caricature and less real. Naiman, on the other hand, plays the perfect next-door girl with a smiling breeze.
For a film about a musician in hiding, the use of background score in the movie has to be one of my favorite aspects of the direction. It is neither too much nor too little, yet sometimes it misses the mark. In one particular scene, when Benji is walking towards his sofa and Jordan is tiptoeing behind him, I would have almost burst out in laughter if not for the comedy of the scene being dissipated by the lack of noise or any score whatsoever.
On the other hand, Benji’s slowly recovering self takes to music, and we hear his light strumming from time to time. The noiselessness of the scenes inside Benji’s apartment also drives home the absolute isolation of his existence, quickly contrasted with the moment he is outside and among people.
Lost Inside clearly looks like a film that was shot on a tight budget, but you won’t regret giving it the time to prove itself. The way it looks at stardom and romantic relationships aren’t quite conventional despite being very much rooted in reality. I’d definitely watch this again after work on a long day.
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