Films that deal with mental health conditions can be a mixed bag, and historically they’ve been pretty bad at representing those struggles in a sensitive and truthful way. Too many movies portray mental health conditions as being the fault of the person, of being things to mock, or even outright evil. But as the world slowly gets better, people are starting to understand that mental health struggles are real, valid, and things that deserve truthful representation. First time writer and director Jeff Hindenach has gone out of his way to craft a story that does that in Lost Inside.
Lost Inside tells the story of Benji Williams (Spencer Scruggs), a man who shot to musical fame several years ago under the name Tucker Stills, getting into magazines, and having a platinum record. However, following a public meltdown after an awards ceremony, Tucker Stills vanished, and Benji has been living inside his small apartment for the past five years, having never once left his home. When a new neighbour, Sylvia (Serra Naiman) moves in next door to him he starts to feel the pull to leave his carefully constructed shelter, but his agoraphobia proves to be too strong to beat.
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That’s when Jordan (Garret Ryan) arrives. Appearing in his apartment one day, Jordan tells him that he’s a manifestation of his subconscious, and that he want’s to try and help make Benji’s life better. Whilst at first he thinks he’s gone crazy, Jordan’s constant badgering and pushing gets Benji to say hello to Sylvia. As the two of them talk, with Benji still safely inside his apartment, a very real friendship begins to form between them, and Benji gets closer and closer to making the leap to leaving his home once again. But, with Jordan still around, it’s clear that Benji still has several more hurdles to overcome.
Lost Inside is a sweet movie; one that puts its characters squarely in the focus, and takes its time getting to know them. There are only really three characters here, with a couple of others that make fleeting appearances, and even then, one of them isn’t real: but it’s the characters that drive this story. Hindenach makes Benji the centre of everything, and his mental health struggles aren’t just a feature of the movie, but its focus. You could argue that it’s even a character thanks to Jordan manifesting in his life.
Benji is very quickly painted as a sympathetic character, as we see his daily routine, spending time writing, playing video games, and eating the same foods every day. When he gets a delivery and the person dropping off his groceries knocks on the door rather than just leaving the stuff on the doorstep as instructed, we see how quickly this one tiny change causes him distress. Benji is a man who has shut himself away from the world, and would very happily never talk to another person again. But his brain has other ideas.
Jordan, though a figment of Benji’s imagination, is very quickly a delightful character. He gets in Benji’s face, makes him confront his emotions, challenges him on tiny things, and acts like an annoying helper. And whilst the two of them start off a little antagonistic they soon fall into this easy rhythm as Benji comes to accept his imaginary friend. Some of the more delightful moments of the movie are the two of them just hanging out, with Jordan slowly getting Benji to open up to others simply by being there for him. And his refusal to use anything but Benji’s mother’s urn for his cigarette ash is humorous throughout, even if the ash doesn’t really exist.
Sylvia is who really gets Benji to open up, however, and the scenes they share are the real heart of the movie. Starting with Benji barely opening the door, and only mumbling a few words to her, it’s her patience and kindness towards him that allows him the chance to start to slowly open up. Sylvia feels wonderfully different because of how patient and kind she is, and I can’t help but feel that other stories in a similar vein would show her pushing Benji more and more, whilst she’s happy to go at his pace. She lets him stay several feet away until he’s comfy getting closer, and she never once looks annoyed when he rushes back inside in fear. The friendship that forms between them, and the obvious romantic feelings, is lovely to see, and it makes for some genuinely sweet scenes.
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All three of the central cast do fantastically in their roles, and whilst they never all get to interact with each other in the same scene, the times they get to be on screen all together are wonderfully fun. Scruggs plays Benji with a real vulnerability and nervous energy that feels very genuine and respectful to those suffering through social anxiety and a fear of leaving their home. Ryan is brash and annoying at times, yet always comes across as doing what he does for the right reasons, and so prevents Jordan from ending up feeling mean or bullying, and he makes it seem like the imaginary man does care about Benji. And Naiman plays her part brilliantly, showing a ton of patience and care, yet having a few moments where you can see the frustration she feels with Benji. She makes Sylvia feel like a person who’s trying to do their best to help someone, even if inside they’re getting annoyed that that person isn’t doing as well as she wants.
Lost Inside is a small film, with minimal sets and cast, but one that manages to feel like it’s got a clear idea of what it wants to do. It’s got a story that it wants to tell, and it creates some great characters to take us through that tale. This is the first film from Jeff Hindenach, but the writing is stronger than some you’ll see from industry mainstays. This is not just a film worth watching, but a director to keep an eye on too.
Lost Inside is available to rent or buy in the USA on Amazon, Apple, Vudi and YouTube, and will be streaming on Amazon Prime Video from 24th November.