What is it about tight constricted spaces that freaks people out? Do you feel that not only the walls are closing in on you, but you are not alone also? Claustrophobic themes can be quite difficult to get right in a movie. But when they are done right, you can develop a fear you never realised you had before under the right circumstances. Fede Alvarez has returned with his new film Don’t Breath (2016) which looks like it can frazzle the senses. So what other films have sent me into panic mode in the past? An honourable mention goes out to 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) which would be in the list but I haven’t actually seen it yet. But from what I’ve heard, it would definitely be near the top. And also Spoorloos (1988), but I have covered that in other lists many times before.
10. Event Horizon (1997)
I can never understand why so much people actually hate this film. It has to be one of the most underrated Sci-Fi/Horror films of all time. It’s like Alien (1979) meets Hellraiser (1987) its brilliant. Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill lead an expedition into deep space after a vessel called the Event Horizon has reappeared after seven years. When they are on board and discover the crew has all but vanished, they soon find themselves fighting something not extra-terrestrial. But supernatural. Violent, creepy, and nerve-shredding. Seriously it deserves so much more credit than it has been given.
9. Phone Booth (2002)
Joel Schumacher’s film takes place in the middle of New York City (although filmed in LA) and stars Colin Farrell as a man in big trouble. After answering a mysterious call from a lone phone booth, Stu Shepard (Farrell) is threatened by a lone sniper (Kiefer Sutherland), who wishes for Stu to tell the world who he really is. A man who really needs to be taught a lesson. What makes the film so tense is the fact that we never understand the caller’s true intentions. Yes Stu deserved everything that he got to an extent. But sometimes what is better left unknown is really one of the creepiest things of all. And being trapped inside a glass case of emotions all day would surely drive you mental.
8. Panic Room (2002)
Back in New York City again (sort of), this time under the care of David Fincher. Jodie Foster plays Meg Altman who, along with her daughter (Kristen Stewart), move into a New York town house. Plenty of space is needed as Meg is claustrophobic and has some worries about the panic room installed in the house. However, when the house is breached by three intruders, she has no choice but for her and her daughter to barricade themselves in. David Fincher is one of the most perfect directors of thrillers in the business, and this is one of the reasons why. Double-crossing, paranoia, clever thrills, and Jodie Foster kicking ass. Seems a good entry to me.
7. Misery (1990)
The adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that had us freaked out about Kathy Bates well before that hot-tub scene. James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, a famed romance novelist who is involved in a car accident during a snow storm. When he comes to, he awakens in the home of former nurse Annie Wilkes (Bates), who has nursed him back to health. Of course, Paul’s crash is only the beginning of the nightmare, as Annie is a huge fan of his novels, and doesn’t seem to have any intention of letting him leave. When we finally discover Annie’s true intentions, it will make you very paranoid of your next hospital visit. Seeing as Paul is pretty much an invalid, the tensions only mount higher when we see what she is capable of. Depending on which version, either the book (1987) or the film, it had me freaked for weeks.
6. Ex Machina (2015)
This film had the most unexpected effect on me when I first saw it. And it had me shaken for a number of days. Domhnall Gleeson plays computer programmer Caleb, who has been invited to the luxurious home of his CEO Nathan Bateman. Whilst there he is tasked with interacting with a humanoid Nathan has built called Ava (Alicia Vikander), to see whether it is capable of thought or consciousness. But when Ava and Caleb are alone, she reveals that Caleb should not trust anything that Nathan says. Not only is this a genuinely thought-provoking film, the level of paranoia that runs through Caleb’s mind completely run through our own. And for people with claustrophobic fears (SPOILER ALERT), the ending is the stuff of nightmares.
5. Repulsion (1965)
Roman Polanski is in charge of this psychological thriller starring Catherine Deneuve. Carol is a young manicurist living in London. When her sister and her boyfriend go away to Italy for the week, Carol is left alone in the apartment. This only seems to deteriorate Carol’s frame of mind, as she has hallucinations which increase in intensity. And soon any man that crosses her path is in for a world of trouble. One of the creepiest black and white films I’ve ever seen with a mesmerising performance from Deneuve. Carol barricading herself in the apartment seems like a good idea at the time to her. But as the film progresses, her mental state of mind becomes worse and worse, and downright insane. A film well worth your time.
4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
It was a really difficult choice between this and Dawn of the Dead (1978), but I finally decided on the original of George Romero’s “Dead Trilogy”. When the bodies of the dead reanimate and begin consuming the living, a small group of survivors barricade themselves in a farm house. When masses of the undead begin to descend towards the house, chances of survival are looking pretty slim. Just think about it. You are stuck in a house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by undead cannibals, barricading and fighting them off, just for more and more to turn up. That is a claustrophobic nightmare of epic proportions. And yet somehow things are about to get worse still.
3. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s epic space horror that made Sigourney Weaver a star. And gave me nightmares about face-huggers ever since. When the mining crew of the spacecraft Nostromo is making its way back to Earth, a distress signal is calling the crew for help. However, in the process of investigation, a crew-member is attacked by a creature who clutches to his face (little bastards). When he appears to be making a recovery, a creature bursts from his chest and escapes, putting everyone on board in danger. They don’t even begin to imagine how big the creature gets. Alien to me is like the ultimate haunted house film. The dark corridors, flashing lights and unbelievable tension culminates in an atmosphere of pure dread. You never know when the Alien is going to come, and as the tag line says: “In Space, no one can hear you scream!”
2. Buried (2010)
Don’t be mad at this choice. Alien is a far superior film sure, but this list deals with claustrophobic movies. And in that department, Buried surely wins. Ryan Reynolds plays a truck driver based in Iraq. After an ambush, he is locked in a small box buried deep in the ground with a few items for light and a mobile phone. If he does not come up with $5 million by 9pm, he will be left there. Filmed entirely in one location (the box), it is a truly exhausting experience. We feel that we cannot even breathe with all the heat, lack of air, and convulsive sweat emanating from Reynolds character. As time passes on we feel more and more uncomfortable and distressed at the situation the protagonist is involved in. Surely the depiction of intense claustrophobia cannot get any worse than this right? Wrong.
1. The Descent (2005)
Yeah, I’ve said this many times throughout this list, but if you want a true claustrophobic nightmare? This is the film for you. When Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, she decides to go spelunking with her friends after suffering a year of grief and depression. However, when the group of women soon get trapped in an unknown cave system that collapses on itself, they think that is the worst of their troubles. But when they soon discover something else lurking in the dark, they are well and truly screwed. Watching this on my own, in the dark, was a truly terrifying experience. The incredibly dark caves, along with severely narrow passageways are already mind melting at first. But when the true horrors soon emerge, it is a very harrowing and uncomfortable viewing experience that will leave even the most hardcore cinema-goers rattling. Do you want to feel like the walls are closing in? Look no further because this is the film to do it.