Over the past few weeks, we’ve all been feeling a bit claustrophobic with being trapped inside so much. But cinema has proven that even when restricted, creativity can shine through. So today I’m recommending 7 great claustrophobic films, all based in small or restricted settings, from different genres to show how greatness can flourish even with small canvases.
Drama: 12 Angry Men
A jury is tasked with judging if a teenager is guilty of murder. Initially many think he’s guilty but when Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) disagrees it turns into a riveting debate on the values of justice. 12 Angry Men continues to impress as more time passes. The topics of justice, human nature, and doubt remain universal. And as it largely takes place in one room on a hot summer day it makes you feel as frustrated as the characters. It’s currently ranked 5th on IMDb’s top 250 and has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Thriller: Rear Window
While confined to his apartment, wheelchair-bound photographer L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) witnesses his neighbour possibly committing murder. But how is he going to prove it? Rear Window is today regarded as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films. And it’s certainly impressive. As most of the action is shot inside Jeffries’ apartment, we as viewers are put in the same position as Jefferies. Unable to move too far and confined by circumstances beyond our control. It’s currently ranked 50th on IMDb’s top 250 and has a 99% approval rating on RT.
Action: The Raid
A group of police officers head to a high-rise to arrest a prominent crime lord. The officers are quickly ambushed, have their retreat cut-off, and many are killed by the high-rise’s residents. Can the remaining officers get to their target before the residents kill them? The Raid has been referred to as one of the best action movies of the past decade and the limited location of the high-rise works to its advantage. Keeping the story focused instead of meandering and making for some incredibly creative set-pieces. It holds a 7.6 IMDb score and an 86% RT approval rating.
Biopic: 127 Hours
When Aron Ralston (James Franco) goes climbing in Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon he ends up falling and pinning his arm between a boulder and the wall. Can Aron survive in these dire circumstances? 127 Hours is difficult to watch. It’s based on a real-life incident and like previous entries, it does an amazing job putting you into the protagonist’s position by restricting the setting and Aron’s movement for most of the movie. So, when the climax comes, you’re left wondering if you could do what Aron did? 127 Hours was positively received by audiences and critics. Even being nominated for 2011s Best Picture Oscar.
Horror: The Thing (1982)
An Antarctic research station is invaded by an alien creature that assimilates and imitates other life forms. With communication lines cut and the cold wastes outside providing no hope of rescue how are the station’s researchers going to fight this creature? Especially when anyone they know could be the thing? Initially, critics reviled John Carpenter’s The Thing but it’s now considered a horror masterpiece. Thanks to its slow-building suspense and paranoia. Further amplified by the restricted nature of the research outpost setting. It’s ranked 164th in IMDB’s top 250 and has an 84% approval rating on RT.
Surreal: The Exterminating Angel
When upper-class dinner guests are unable to leave their hosts living room for unexplained reasons, slowly all semblance of morality and etiquette between the guests crumbles, revealing only animals beneath. Exterminating Angel is a surreal black comedy that uses its humorous conceit of the guests being unable to leave a party to ridicule the bourgeoise. And while it’s certainly weirder than previous list entries you’re guaranteed to remember it. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. And currently has an 8.1 rating on IMDb and a 92% on RT.
Romance: Time & Again
Former lovers Isabelle (Brigit Forsyth) and Eleanor (Siân Phillips) meet up 60 years after their relationship ended in a nursing home. With the action largely confined to two rooms, this short allows us to feel the isolation of both the main characters who have both lost their partners. And the limited scope emphasizes the great performances which immediately invest us in the couple and leaves us eager to learn about their history and ultimately their future. Time & Again has an 8.5 rating on IMDb and has received awards at several film festivals.
So ends our list of great claustrophobic films. Proving that a limited setting can still engage, thrill, excite, inform, terrify, challenge, and move us. But did we miss any out? Then let us know your favorite limited location film in the comments.