After serving twenty years in prison, Chris (Jay Duplass) is re-adjusting to the world around him. People and places that should be familiar are now the remnants of a distant memory as he picks up the pieces he left behind.
At 38-years-old, Chris has been granted a new lease of freedom now on parole. It transpires that Chris is in jail for a crime he did not commit, so upon returning home, it is a shock to the system. To those around him, Chis appears as wondrous as an imaginary creature. His presence is viewed as a miracle and he is told as much. However, he is opposed to the attention, social events result in him retreating to the bathroom to vomit.
It becomes clear that Chris’ former high-school teacher, Carol (Edie Falco), has been the key to his release from jail. She is the glue that is holding together her family while trying to monitor her relationship with Chris. Now face to face, Chris and Carol have an unusual bond where their chemistry teeters on the will-they won’t-they line. As Chris’ ex-teacher, saviour, friend, and now infatuation, Carol is placed at the centre of his world. A complicated relationship puts them both under strain.
Even before the film starts a sense of opposition is established. The oxymoronic title offers a glance at what Outside In features. The contrast of prison and freedom, friendship and romance, promises and deliverance is the shifting perspective through which Chris must navigate. As the inversion of ‘inside out’ Outside In displays the contradictory existence of the life Chris now leads. Pivoting from his time in jail immediately to the warmth of home, the oppositions are immediate. Chris’ friends and family are overjoyed to see him, asking “How does it feel to be free?” While the prison rehabilitation staff, he must visit, remind him: “You’re not free. Not by a long-shot.” This push and pull is something repeatedly touched upon. Chris craves simplicity, desiring a life of routine and stability, searching for it where he can.
Director Lynn Shelton delivers an emotional take on tragedy and re-building. Where Shelton’s directorial style comes to the forefront is her dealings with these independently unique characters. Neither are alike, leading to a conflict of opinion and expression. Yet interactions come across as natural between the mismatched group that star in Outside In. It is Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever) in particular, who manages to escape a possibly stagnant representation of a young woman. She wanders through, snacking from a family-sized packet of crisps as a stroppy teenager who is in the stage of rebellion against her parents. This expected characterisation finds contrast with her sharp demeanour. Holding her own, the film may be about Chris, yet Hildy finds her own positioning within this narrative.
An understanding of emotional torment becomes readily apparent in one scene where Chris re-visits the location of the murder he was wrongly accused of. The memory is a wound that had never had the chance to heal, Chris battles trying to deal with the pain as he soothes himself. The murmurings of what happened that night are sprinkled throughout the film. Avoiding blatant exposition in the writing, Outside In finds a nice balance in addressing the plot while ensuring characters are not just there to guide plot points. An interesting score also swoops in as the pairing to some of these scenes. Classic-styled violins score shots of blurred street lights, a drop of water on the windowpane and fluorescent lights of the dashboard. The inside of Chris’ mind is brought forward here in an all-consuming sequence where his senses are heightened as he re-plays the events of that night over again.
Outside In demonstrates an inherently personal depiction of rediscovering life. It comes time for Chris to decide what life he now wants to lead. Shelton’s film may have a very intentional focus upon just character but this does contribute to Outside In’s measured narrative. A film that captures the raw conflict of life with great honesty.
Outside In is available to stream on UK Netflix
by Emily Maskell
Originally from the flatlands of Norfolk, Emily now studies Film at De Montfort University. She’s often found cuddling her dog and wearing oversized jumpers with a big mug of tea. When Em’s not in the cinema, she spends too much time re-watching Bo Burnham’s stand-up comedy and subjecting her friends to her Call Me By Your Name ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter: @EmMaskell