Many horror films are built upon the premise of people being trapped and needing to find a way out. It’s the confinement that adds to the terror, the desperation to escape the motivation. Some films that utilize the “single location” method have gone on to become bonafide classics, mainstays within the genre.
For this week’s Dread X, we got Deathcember‘s Jason A. Rostovsky to share his top 10 single location horror films.
Rostovsky tells Dread Central, “I’m a sucker for simplicity and survival. I’ve always been drawn to movies that take a small moment or location and expand that into a story of epic scope and intense emotional catharsis. I think these types of movies really capture the limitless-ness of the imagination… oh, and the endless ways in which you might die in a seemingly normal situation. It’s probably my own deep-rooted fears that truly fuel my love for these movies, so might as well share the anxiety, you know?”
Rostovsky’s entry in Deathcember, the upcoming Christmas horror anthology, is titled “Before Sundown”. Centered around Hanukkah, the short is set in present-day but exudes ’80s love and detail. From brooding synth sounds to kids riding their bikes in nighttime suburbia, the segment is a declaration of love for the ’80s while still having modern-day sensibilities.
The official “Before Sundown” synopsis:
“On the first night of Hanukkah, Julia, her brother Noah, and their best friend Sam are running very late on their way home to celebrate the Sabbath. Warned their entire lives to be home before sundown on such a special day, these teens are about to find out that it’s much more than just tradition… it’s survival! As night overtakes their sleepy suburban neighborhood, they are attacked by something evil lurking within the falling darkness. They’d better get home for dinner, before they become it.“
Six people awaken inside of a giant cube made up of thousands of smaller cube-shaped rooms, many of which are rigged with deadly traps. As they navigate the endless maze searching for answers and a way out, they discover that there is more to fear than the cube itself. Choosing to rely more on the strength of its complex characters and their beguilingly sharp banter to entertain and build tension, Cube almost makes you forget that you’re stuck in a massive metal deathtrap without food, water, or fresh air. Cube revolutionizes single-location horror even from a production standpoint, considering that Vincenzo Natali shot the entire film in a single room and just changed the color of the walls for each new room they pass through. This Canadian sci-fi horror wonder will blow your mind with its exploration of what it means to be human in a mechanical, headless blunder of a world.
Weird and wonderful, Pontypool takes place entirely within a small-town Ontario radio station during the outbreak of a strange virus that drives those infected to madness. Radio announcer Grant Mazzy, station manager Sydney, and technical assistant Laurel-Ann are trapped inside as the world around them goes to hell in a handbasket. The fun of it is that they have no idea what’s going on, other than what they are being told from outside sources. Pontypool plays with confinement through sound and information, utilizing the technical function of its location to enhance the horror and give Grant and company a chance at survival. Some of the most chilling scenes in this film are purely audio-driven, as we hear the outburst of violence as the virus spreads outside, told only through calls into the station from their helicopter reporter who is on the scene. Sound plays a bigger role in the film beyond this, but you’ll find out once you watch!
Anyone who knows me knows how much I admire this movie. It’s Blake Lively stuck on a rock just 200 yards from shore after being attacked by a great white shark that won’t leave her alone. And as if it couldn’t get any worse, the rock she’s stuck on will soon be swallowed by the tide. It’s ingenious, creative, and takes the single-location sub-genre to a whole new level. Whereas most contained horror movies capitalize on the claustrophobic challenges of a confined space, The Shallows explores the terrors of exposure and survival out in the open. It’s also way more emotional than you’re ready for… I honestly teared up during this movie. Everyone should watch it. This is a hill (or rock) that I am willing to die on.
This is a Stephen King adaptation at its finest. Frank Darabont manages to capture the mystery, fear, and stuckness of the novella with great gravitas and ferocious energy. If you’re unfamiliar, a bunch of folks in a small town become trapped in a supermarket after a strange mist rolls in, bringing with it unfathomable horror in the form of Lovecraftian-ish monsters. Rather than being plot-heavy (though there are some really exciting sequences), The Mistroots its horror in incendiary characters that are greatly at odds with each other’s unfaltering world views. It makes the most of its small quarters, which prove to be the perfect location for these tensions to boil over because while resources are plenty, patience is not. Thomas Jane also plays a hot Dad trying to protect his son and get home to his wife. And, well, I’m not even going to bring up the ending. There’s something in the mist! And it’s a great freaking time.
THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD
This atmospheric art-house vision of the apocalypse challenges expectations of both the zombie and single-location sub-genres, delivering a raw and exceptional piece of horror cinema that is sure to impress…and depress. Set in Paris, musician Sam goes to pick up his things from his ex-girlfriend’s apartment during a party and ends up passing out in the back room. Upon waking up, Sam discovers that zombies have overrun Paris and he may be the last of the living.Sam kills time exploring the rest of the apartments, sometimes through unconventional means, searching for supplies. It’s relatable and poignant, focusing on the psychological and emotional effects of prolonged isolation and loneliness. It’s a unique installment of the subgenre because rather than spending his time looking for a way out, Sam is instead struggling to find a reason to leave. Even the way it handles its zombies is refreshing, opting for an all around quiet and restrained approach to the infected and the end of the world.
This one left me breathless. Before seeing this film, I had never wondered what would happen if a punk rock band were to witness a murder at a Neo-Nazi bar and have to fight for survival after they lock themselves in the green room, but it changed my life. Everything about this movie is brutal, beautiful, and brilliant. It takes a siege approach to its structure, making the green room a home base where they can run back to when their escape attempts go wrong. This maximizes the hopelessness of their situation – no matter how far they get each time, they end up right back where they started, and a little more fucked. It’s a clever addition the sub-genre and pushes its single-location to the absolute limit, taking advantage of every inch of space. Patrick Stewart kills it as the skinhead leader and Anton Yelchin is the adorable hero we all deserve and love with all our hearts.
This is one of those rare contained horror movies that actually benefits from being found footage and uses the device to heighten the story and experience. When a late night TV reporter and her cameraman follow the local fire department into an apartment building on an emergency call, they become quarantined inside with a highly infectious virus that turns the residents into violent and crazed hosts. As the situation escalates, the apartment becomes a bloody and nightmarish labyrinth, where danger lurks on both sides of the plastic barriers. REC blessed us with three sequels, all of which are equally as fun and gory, and was remade almost shot for shot in 2008 as Quarantine, for American audiences. You could say that REC managed to build a successful and compelling franchise based primarily on the concept of a contained single-location.
RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR
This intense and way too close to home story of survival and sacrifice leaves a man trapped and sealed inside his home while his wife succumbs to the toxic air outside spread by a dirty bomb that goes off in Los Angeles. This movie made me want to take fifteen showers and seal myself inside a plastic bubble. It’s powerful, effective, and gut punches you right at the end with a well deserved, although kind of predictable twist. Watch this movie and then wash your hands.
And on the subject of horrible things that can happen in someone’s LA home, The Invitation will mess you up. It did not come here to make friends, it came here to make you terrified that yours might want to murder you at a dinner party. Which is exactly what Will wonders when he and his new girlfriend Kira are invited to a dinner hosted by his ex-wife and her new man who belong to a strange spiritual group. Kusama keenly uses familiarity as a weapon, when Will returns to his old house with old friends, the location invites him to doubt his suspicions as the night goes on. The house creates an atmosphere that seems intent on tearing open the past that he’s tried so hard to move on from, trapping him in a fight not only for his life, but also for closure. If Karyn Kusama ever invites you over for dinner… I mean, say yes obviously because she’s amazing but maybe keep your guard up and your eyes on the nearest exit.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
And last, but certainly not least, we have my favorite of them all. When the dead come back to life and start consuming the living, a group of strangers barricade themselves in an old farmhouse and try to survive the night. Overflowing with social commentary, plenty of gore, and the sassiest lines ever spoken during the end of the world (thank you Helen Cooper), Romero not only redefines horror with this masterpiece, but also sets the bar impossibly high for the single-location sub-genre. The way location and space are used to increase the tension as their world grows smaller and smaller, both thematically and physically, is phenomenal. Hell, they spend half the time arguing about where they should hide in the house and whether or not they should leave, centering location at the core of the story and tying each of their fates to the fate of the house. Also, everyone should know that I almost said Dawn of the Dead, because who hasn’t wanted to live in a mall, but I was feeling like Night deserved it because it’s more classic, so don’t look at me like that.