Inland Empire

In DVD/Blu-ray by Alex Moss Editor

Believe it or not Inland Empire, which was released in 2006, is David Lynch’s last feature directorial effort. Since then he’s focussed primarily on shorts, documentaries and TV shows. So it is with great delight that StudioCanal are giving Lynch’s Inland Empire the 4K restoration it doesn’t so much demand as need.

This being a Lynch film, plot is of secondary importance. But for what it’s worth the film follows Hollywood star Nikki (Laura Dern) who has seemingly fallen from grace landing a much sought after role in a big film. Her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux) is a renowned womaniser and her director, Kingsley (Jeremy Irons) is convinced the production is cursed. What becomes clear is Nikki’s world is spiralling out of control and before long, life and art are colliding in disturbing ways.

Shot entirely on Digital Video – long before the concept of anything high-definition came into the mainstream – Inland Empire is very much Lynch playing with format. And given he’s a filmmaker who toys with linear storytelling, narrative form and characters this is another way for him to mess with your mind. Laura Dern – who gives an absolute powerhouse of a performance here – said that Lynch’s entire pitch to her for Empire was “Do you want to come experiment?”. And that’s exactly what Inland Empire is, an experiment in filmmaking from a filmmaker already unique in the way he conjures his visions.

All the trademarks of Lynch are present and correct, the sense of dread, the slow-building tension that this is in fact a nightmare unfolding before you. A narrative that loops and twists back on itself to leave you disoriented and in need of a hug. It’s not so much Lynch trying to mess with your mind as exorcising his own, you’re just along for the harrowing ride.

Given the format it’s shot on, Inland Empire is a triumph of Lynch’s style. It’s an assault on the senses, the use of sound, score and extreme close-ups, something the digital format seems to bend into chilling images, leave you reeling. Imagine if Rosemary’s Baby was about the film industry, Rosemary’s Production if you will, and then add in enough indelible imagery to have you waking in a cold sweat for the next fortnight and you’re close to what Inland Empire is. So powerful are some of the visuals that by the time it ends you’ll feel as if your own reality has shifted, that nothing feels quite as real as what Lynch has just transported you to. Suffice to say, it’s not for the faint of heart.

If there is a ‘but’ it’s that Inland Empire cleaves so close in ideas and tone to Lynch’s masterpiece Mulholland Drive. The Hollywood setting, the actress on the edge, the falling down the rabbit hole of nightmare all feel very reminiscent. Indeed a fleeting cameo from Mulholland Drive’s Laura Harring suggests the two films occupy the same mind-space. But Inland’s format lacks the glossy surrealist brilliance of Mulholland. And at three hours Inland can sometimes leave you feeling drained, not in a bored way but in an exhausted, “I’ve just run through hell and back can I have a glass of water?” kind of way.

The restoration, overseen by The Criterion Collection, is stunning and elevates the film significantly from what it was upon its original release. The blacks are darker which creates a depth of field that draws you further into the visuals. This should become the essential version of Lynch’s nightmare with the way it has brought further detail to proceedings.

Perhaps a little indulgent at times, Inland Empire is nonetheless an essential and quintessential David Lynch film. This is Lynch at both his most experimental and experiential, you have been warned, you might need therapy come the end.