Looking for some thrillers that take place entirely in a single enclosed space? Agent Orange from Quiet Earth has counted down 13 of the most nail-biting flicks confined to four walls.
The trend towards well scripted, high concept thrillers that take place in just one location is truly peaking, and in anticipation of the claustrophobic thrills of both Devil and Buried on DVD and Blu-ray right away we thought we would countdown our favorite thrillers that take place in just one room. Grab a pen folks, 'cause you're gonna want to catch up with these claustrophobic thrill rides!
Devil: M. Night takes the producer chair in this horror flick about a literal elevator ride from hell, where a group of strangers realize they are trapped in an elevator with the devil! After the abysmal ratings following the bloated Last Airbender, it was sure good to see M. Night back in the creative environment he's best suited- involved in a little indie with a big concept.
The Killing Room: Back in the 50s and 60s, the American government conducted a rash of freaky experiments on unsuspecting citizens. The code name for the covert CIA mind-control and chemical research program was called MK-ULTRA, and basically it was like an evil version of the Dharma Initiative. The Killing Room works under the premise that the program was never shut down and people are still being tricked into participating in said freaky experiments in the name of national security. One of the things that makes The Killing Room stand out, is you get to see on both sides of the experiment. Another reason to check it out is that it's from World Battle: Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman.
Unknown: In this mostly... wait for it... unknown thriller, five men wake up in a locked-down warehouse with no memory of who they are. They are forced to figure out who is good and who is bad to stay alive. A little like The Killing Room, Unknown sort of fell through the cracks and most people caught it on cable. It has an amazing cast in James Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Bridget Moynahan, Joe Pantoliano, Barry Pepper, Jeremy Sisto and totally stands up. Peppered with flashback, some may argue this isn't strictly a one-room thriller, but it's close enough in my books.
Exam: In new British thriller,, eight talented candidates have reached the final stage of selection to join the ranks of a mysterious and powerful corporation. Entering a windowless room, an "Invigilator" gives them 80 minutes to answer one question. He outlines three rules they must obey: don't talk to him or the armed guard by the door, don't spoil their papers and don't leave the room. The candidates turn over their question papers, only to find they're completely blank. Thus begins Stuart Hazeldine's powerful debut, a largely bloodless thriller that nonetheless keeps you guessing until the end. One thing I liked about Exam is the subtle way that Hazeldine makes us feel that we're in a science fiction universe full of designer drugs, economic meltdown and evil corporations without leaving this room. Defintiely worth checking out now that it's on DVD in Stateside.
1408 is not just one of the best one-room horror flicks, but it's one of the best Stephen King adaptions yet. It strays a little from the short story by adding a bit of a backstory, but the basic concept of a hack ghost writer who stumbles upon the real thing is examined to its fullest here. I don't know about you guys, but I generally don't like ghost stories. Probably because I've seen too many of them and they always turn out the same (the ghosts need our help). But somehow this one really got under my skin. Also, Cusack is a strong lead here and handles what is essentially a one man show with great dignity.
If you're reading this and haven't seen Cube yet, just stop reading, go watch it and come back. Vincenzo Natali's first scifi feature is an indie gem that spawned two sequels. Seven complete strangers are involuntarily placed in an endless kafkaesque maze containing deadly traps. Technically it takes place in multiple rooms - or cubes - but since they are all identical let's agree that it's really the same room.
Buried somehow goes beyond storytelling and becomes an experience. It is so claustrophobic and fast-paced that you really feel like you are in that coffin with Reynolds as he fights to figure out what's going on and tries to get rescued. You literally never leave the coffin. I'm glad I caught it on the big screen and hope the experience translates to home viewing. I would definitely NOT advise watching it on a laptop as I know many are prone to doing. Buried comes out on DVD and blu-ray combo pack in January, so if you missed it during its short theatrical run, you'll be able to catch it then.
In the Spanish thriller, Fermat's Room, four mathematicians who do not know each other are invited by a mysterious host on the pretext of resolving a great enigma. The room in which they find themselves turns out to be a shrinking room that will crush them if they do not discover in time what connects them all and why someone might wish to murder them. Quietearth hated this film, but I loved it and have seen it a few times now. Not being great at math myself, I found I missed some of the subtleties of the dialog, but luckily this is a thriller first and math lesson second. If you haven't seen it you should rectify that immediately.
Hitchcock's Rope is famous for a couple reasons. First, it uses long takes — the longest possible at the time it was made — and second, it's all set in one man's apartment. The plot of Rope is pretty twisted and I doubt anyone but Hitchcock could have got it made at the time. Two young men strangle their "inferior" classmate, hide his body in their apartment and then invite his friends and family to a dinner party as a means to challenge the "perfection" of their crime. Truly classic and demented stuff.
Another Hitchcock classic that took the one room thriller to new levels of effectiveness, Rear Window is so well done that your recollection might even be that it didn't take place in one room at all — but it does. James "Jimi" Stewart plays a wheelchair bound photographer who spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed a murder. It's films like this that make us say things like "Hitchcockian" when we talk about other films. This is truly a master at work, and I would say I like this one even more than Psycho.
Like many of the films above, The Hunger starts out with five strangers waking up to find themselves trapped in an underground dungeon with no idea how they got there. Frantic to figure out how to escape, the disoriented group quickly discovers another room containing enough water to survive for 30 days…and a razor sharp surgical knife. The intention of the game becomes quite clear: how long will it take before the hunger inside makes them each do the unspeakable. The tension escalates, old secrets boil to the surface and new alliances result in one bloody question…how far would you go to survive? The Hunger is better on paper than it is to watch, but it was good enough for Fangoria to put their seal of approval and release it as part of their Frightfest collection.
In his review, Ben Ausrwick said that The Disappearance of Alice Creed is "a minimalist, play-like piece that relies on stellar acting and a devilish plot to carry a slight idea." Very true. The film takes place in only one or two rooms (all right, I'm cheating again) and it's high concept, but the acting and script are just good enough to carry the film and I would recommend it to indie fans.
Haven't seen this one to be honest, but I remembered it took place in one room. The Steam Experiment is the original title. It was renamed Chaos Experiment when it finally arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. It has a terrible rating on IMDB, but stars Val Kilmer, so I'm actually thinking of tracking it down.
Another Canadian addition to the list, Pontypool (review) is a perfect example of this kind of film done right. It is the tense story of a zombie outbreak told entirely from the point of view of a small town radio DJ and takes place in the station's basement studio. The ironic twist? The outbreak is spread through speech. Directed by Bruce MacDonalnd of Hard Core Logo and Tracey Fragments fame and based on a novel by Tony Burgess, Pontypool is one of the best Canadian genre films and easily one of the best example of how to construct a one room horror film.
The post originally appeared on Quiet Earth.