The Interior (2015)

The Interior first published by

James (Patrick McFadden) sits in a daze in a doctor’s office. The loud hip hop playing in his head stops as soon as the doctor (Delphine Roussel) walks in. As James lists an array of symptoms – digital pins and needles, headaches, ‘brainfog’, ‘double vision’  – it is clear from this opening scene both that The Interior is concerned with its protagonist’s pathology and that his perceptions (which we share) are not always reliable. When the doctor asks James, “Are you high right now?”, it becomes apparent that James is somehow completely unaware of the joint that he has been holding in his own hand. The doctor suggests that it is too early to assume a tumour, but nonetheless something is obviously wrong, and she is sending him for a brain scan.

In another office, in the advertising firm where he works, James sits opposite his boss Mr Vondas (Andrew Hayes) who is too busy conducting a conversation with someone else on the phone to pay James any attention, and who seems puzzled by James’ claim that Vondas had summoned him to be there. Alone in the bathroom, the disgruntled James, facing his own reflection in the mirror, conducts an imagined, and highly aggressive, conversation with Vondas. “When we need a leader,” James says, “you’re not in this reality, you’re nowhere to be found… You are so lost in your narcissism, which is fuelled by your insecurities, which is caused by god knows what – which is caused by what only you can figure out.” In case the viewer has not worked out that James is really addressing these words, both literally and metaphorically, to himself, the following sequence, in which we see James angrily confronting Vondas, is clearly marked as a fantasy taking place entirely in his head. 

This is James’ ‘interior’, a realisation of his fragmenting mind, whether through the effects of his as yet undiagnosed disease or through a broader sense of alienation from his sterile modern life. Forced to work over the weekend, he crafts an undermining TV campaign “featuring disaffected millennials” (just like himself) that is so bitterly poisonous it will lose him his job. “Are you fucking crazy?”, Vondas will ask – a fair question of someone who is clearly suffering some sort of mental breakdown, if not outright fugue. James will temporarily seek work as an air duct cleaner- a job for which he is grossly overqualified, but which does significantly involve removing interior clutter – before receiving news from his doctor, breaking up with his girlfriend Cindy (Shaina Silver-Baird), and heading out of town with a tent and a torch. 

All this happens in the prologue to writer/director/producer/editor Trevor Juras’ The Interior, whose title does not appear on screen until 25 minutes into its 77-minute duration. The rest of the film traces James’ retreat deeper and deeper into the wild, wintry woods – a kind of interior which, though seemingly literal in contrast with the more figurative variety seen in the film’s opening section, turns out to be no less a psychological landscape, where James is still an estranged, lost soul, and still plagued by doubles. So what starts as a sort of postmodern urban satire akin to Fight Club (1999) ends in territories closer to The Blair Witch Project (1999), Into The Wild (2007) or Willow Creek (2013), without ever really travelling all that great a distance. Still conducting internal dialogues with himself, James finds his campsite, and even the claustrophobic interior of his tent, repeatedly invaded by a wordless, red-jacketed figure (Jake Beczala) who, no matter how far inland James treks, always seems close behind, and proves impossible to escape. 

Absurdist yet unnerving, The Interior is an elliptical tale of existential horror in which one man’s withdrawal from civilisation is also a retreat from reality, and a struggle with the relentless encroachment of mortality. It is a hilariously low-key and understated affair, which nonetheless gradually takes the viewer further and further into the dark and the unknown, and leaves us, like its protagonist, on an uncomfortable edge.

Summary: Trevor Juras’ low-budget Canadian feature debut is an unnervingly absurd tale of illness, alienation and escape into the interior.

© Anton Bitel