Years ago, if you were to make a list of comedic actors that could carry a serious drama all by themselves, Ryan Reynolds wouldn’t make that list. Now, I think there’s nothing he can’t do.
Reynolds plays a truck driver in Iraq, who finds himself buried alive in a coffin, with no idea why. There are no cutaways, no action outside of what happens inside the box, and as you watch, you’re grow more and more claustrophobic and anxious for his fate. It’s surprising how well this film keeps your attention for over 90 minutes and the ending is everyone’s worst nightmare.
This single location in this film, is a windowless room where candidates for a job at a mysterious multinational company in a dystopic future, are vying for a job. They’ve got 80 minutes to answer one simple question, with 3 rules to follow. Everything takes place in real-time and you see the sanity and rationality of the candidates dissolve until one is left standing. This one is pretty twisted.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)
Even though you can see the twist coming a mile away, this is a tour-de-force of what you can do with a tiny budget and a great story. This British thriller involves a brutal kidnapping and imprisonment of the titular Alice Creed, and the majority of time spent, is within an apartment with her and her kidnappers. This film was made for less than a million dollars and it goes to show that you don’t need money to make a visually slick and stylish film; you just need a good story.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Of course this one has to be on the list. This is a seminal film on every list of top 80’s films and it’s the best example of a John Hughes picture. This is like an 80’s time capsule and everyone’s familiar with the characters and the themes that are still relevant and relatable.
Plus the soundtrack is awesome, the dialogue is fantastic and hell, despite her characterization, Molly Ringwald was a babe.
Rear Window (1954)
If you’re looking for a masterclass in suspense and helplessness, this is your Hitchcock jam. The entire film takes place from LB’s room and we can only see what he can see, and the sequence where Lisa is in Thorwald’s apartment and he’s coming, still makes me hold my breath.
No one does it better than Hitch.
A lot of the best single setting films, are adaptations of stage productions, and this film is no different.
Originally a Tony winning play called ‘The God of Carnage,’ this story has been brought to the screen by Roman Polanski. No stranger to chamber films, this black comedy deals with parents that get together to discuss a fight that their kids had on the playground.
What starts as a civil conversation, eventually disintegrates into personal attacks, dark humour and misanthropy. An no one ever leaves the Manhattan apartment, except a hamster.
This might be a divisive choice, but this debut film from Kevin Smith is what I put on when I’m bored on a Saturday afternoon and want to watch something. For a a film that’s done in black and white (because it was cheaper), done on a shoestring budget, and shot at the convenience store that Smith worked at, it’s really good.
There’s something about the DIY sensibility, crass humour and frank understanding of the zeitgeist of the slacker generation in the 90’s, this one is one hell of a cult classic.
A middle class dinner party gets interrupted by a cosmic phenomena, Miller’s Comet, that causes the situation to turn to sh#t. In this debut film by the director, he only had his house to film in, barely any money, and barely a script and that uncertainty and lack of polish, makes this a compelling film.
As the tale unfolds, as the comet passes by, the guests find an exact duplicate of their house, temporal paradoxes and alternate dimensions and versions of themselves, all ratcheting up the tension and unease. This film makes you think “what if I went this way, rather than that and took the next bus, how would my life be different.” There’s also a touching love story within all the cosmic complexity.
The Lighthouse (2019)
For me, nothing would be creepier than being stuck on a remote island, tending to an isolated lighthouse. Directed by the same guy who scared us with The Witch, this is a terrifying and disturbing psychosexual drama, full of great performances and [email protected]#king symbolism.
This is a pretty messed up film from Canadian director Vincenzo Natali, but man, I do love it! It’s a winning combo of high-concept and low budget, but the story behind it is pretty terrifying.
In this film, a small group of strangers wake up in an elaborate prison maze made up of cubes, with traps, with no memory of how, or why, they’re there. Each cube is booby trapped and they need to learn to trust one another, but as the game goes on, they start to unravel. This one is a much watch if you have a soft spot for claustrophobic, psychological horror.
This is the film that showed us how toxic fandom can get, well before the internet was a thing. And it’s terrifying.
The car crash, the insanity of Annie Wilkes, that hobbling scene… you can really feel the claustrophobia and despair coming through your screen when watching this.
It’s a surprisingly disturbing film from Rob Reiner, who’s known more for his lighthearted fare.
Funny Games (1998)
This film, the original, takes the shocking and graphic brutality of a horror film and creates a home invasion like no other, one where the fourth wall is broken down and the viewer becomes culpable in the brutality that follows.
While a German family is vacationing, they are met with two overly friendly men, Peter and Paul, who soon turn the idyllic vacation into a nightmare of torture and survival.
The Thing (1982)
While not everything happens in one room, there is so much isolation and terror felt by these guys. Plus, the practical effects just really sell the otherworldliness of the threat the guys are facing.
This is one of my favourite John Carpenter films, and something that only gets better with age.
Hard Candy (2005)
If you haven’t seen this one, you really should. This is Ellen Page’s breakout role and it turns the story of Red Riding Hood on it’s head, into a feminist parable. Page plays a girl who lures a supposed pedophile, and enacts her vigilante revenge on him.
This film, directed by David Slade, turns the table on the torture porn subgenere and makes this film into a gleeful story of revenge and suspense, worthy of Hitchcock.
It’s a Disaster (2012)
What do you do when you’re at a dinner party (funny how a lot of these films involve a dinner party), and the world starts ending outside? This film stars David Cross and Julia Styles, who carry this darkly comedic drama through post-apocalyptic tropes and cliches, and provide a commentary on relationships, contemporary life and conflicts, all while staying within the dining room.
The humour is subtle, and the drama is moderate, but the characters are so well-defined that you’ll be enraptured by the story that’s unfolding on the screen before you.
127 Hours (2011)
No, it’s not in a room, but it plays out entirely in one location. And despite the subject matter, this is a beautiful and poetic film. The story of the actual survival of Aaron Ralston, who had to cut off his arm to escape after being pinned by a boulder, this picture does a great job of distilling Aarons experiences and personality, as flashbacks and hallucinations to further characterize the hero.
Meanwhile, we haven’t really left the canyon where he’s trapped. It takes a skilled filmmaker to tell such an all-encompassing tale, through one location. This one should be on every top 10 list.
A controversial choice, sure, but what the original film did with that dirty bathroom can’t be overstated. I’ve seen a lot of horror films in my day, and the twist in the end just fucked with my head.
The rest of the films didn’t live up to the promise of the original, but for the hour and a half that you’re watching the two men try to figure out why they’re chained in a bathroom, you really feel the isolation and terror.
Again, it’s a testament to how fantastic a film can be with a limited budget, but tons of creativity and imagination.
To be honest, I never expected that a film starring Tom Hardy on a road trip would be so good, but it really is. Hardy spends the entirety of the film driving in his car, dealing with a pregnant girlfriend, angry wife, and managing a lucrative construction project. On top of that, he also has an imaginary conversation with his deadbeat dad in the backseat.
Hardy is the only person in this film, while everyone else is a voice on the phone, and that creates such a close, yet narratively rich story, that you don’t really need anything outside of the car. It’s brilliant how well this film encapsulates how much of our world we carry with us, wherever we go.
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Another film based off of a stage play, ‘Wait Until Dark’ involves Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman, besieged by 3 robbers who are looking for a doll filled with heroin. Former Bond director Terence Young brings a cinematic feel to the single location, and the use of lighting and and sound creates a nail-biter of a film.
For this role Audrey Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar, she’s that good.
Based on a play by the same name, Sleuth stars cinematic legends Michael Caine and Sir Laurence Olivier, as two men that perpetuate an insurance scam, that involves a fake robbery. As it slowly grows out of control due to intrigue and betrayal, you see both characters start to fall apart. With a lot of misdirection and clever tricks, this film keeps you guessing until the very end, and doesn’t need to resort to cutaways to tell the story; the actors to a marvellous job themselves.
Based off of a play, this Alfred Hitchcock film is notable for two reasons; it’s self-contained in one room and it’s also presented in one fluid, continuous take, in real time.
The tension and suspense in this film is palpable (and what else would you expect from Hitchcock?), and it involves two men who murder a man and hide the body in their apartment, while having a dinner party. Through the dinner, they antagonize their guests, and drop hints until their teacher, played by Jimmy Stewart, begins to get suspicious. This one is such a treat to watch.
This is an ultra-low-budget psychological thriller and it’s a novel approach to the zombie thriller. The entire film takes place within a radio station, which becomes ground zero for the outbreak and and watching Stephen McHattie break the news of the pandemic and slowly realize how it’s being spread, makes the tension so thick and almost unbearable.
This film is so engaging that you don’t even realize you’ve been watching a guy sit in a radio booth for the the entire film, and director Bruce McDonald makes the absolute most of the location to tell his tale.
12 Angry Men (1957)
For a first film for the director, this one’s a masterpiece. The entire movie involves a jury deliberating over the guilt or innocence of a man on trial, and keeping all the action within the jury room, is what makes this film worth it. The camera work is stellar, keeping everything tight and close, creating a sense of tension and claustrophobia.
While the story itself does have it’s predictable twists and turns, it’s the atmosphere and thrilling nature of the narrative that makes this film one of the best.