9 Gripping Movies Set in Confined Spaces

Production Still for Rear Window with James Stewart.

We're all struggling with the news of three more weeks of lockdown, so take inspiration from the characters in these confined spaces thrillers.

1. Rope (1948)

Forget World War I movie 1917 – suspense master Alfred Hitchcock was experimenting with the one-shot approach long before that. In reality, Rope is composed of several long takes, carefully masked by tracking behind dark objects, and other techniques. But the illusion is maintained very effectively, groundbreaking for the time, and it boasts some memorably paranoid performances.

Taking place entirely in the confines of a penthouse suite, Rope is the story of two murderous friends on a quest to commit the perfect crime. Having strangled their victim, they then host a dinner party to see if they can get away with it – only to come undone by the suspicions of their housemaster Rupert Cadell (James Stewart).


2. Rear Window (1954)

James Stewart has a knack for finding himself in tight spots. In Alfred Hitchcock's masterfully tense thriller, set entirely in the confines of one apartment, Stewart's wheelchair-bound photographer comes to suspect his neighbor across the way of murder.

The film brilliantly makes us the audience complicit in the situation, while also removing our sense of power and intentionally placing us at some distance from the alleged crime scene. This voyeuristic approach is ingrained within all of Hitchcock's movies, and yet is emphasized in Rear Window to diabolically clever effect. When Grace Kelly's girlfriend character ends up investigating the apparent crime scene, the levels of tension sky-rocket, leading to a memorably creepy conclusion.


3. 12 Angry Men (1957)

How does a filmmaker enhance the sense of claustrophobia between a group of characters? If you're Sidney Lumet, you move the walls of the set inwards incrementally, subtly working away on the nerves of the actors and the audience.

That was the approach undertaken by Lumet on his groundbreaking legal thriller 12 Angry Men, in which a group of diametrically opposed jurors must reach a consensus during a difficult trial. As the 18-year-old defendant's life hangs in the balance, the action largely takes place in the juror ante-room, allowing fine actors such as Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and Martin Balsam the chance to engage in sweaty theatrics.


4. Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (1966)

A simple domestic home becomes a fraught battleground in Mike Nichols' adaptation of Edward Albee's stage play. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor bring their famously tempestuous off-screen chemistry to bear on this story of marriage under siege, as their characters George and Martha take vicious lumps out of one another.

Compounding the situation is the presence of another, much younger, married couple, who become embroiled in the mind games. Although the Oscar-winning Virginia Woolf takes place in more than one location, all of them have a horribly confined atmosphere, taking us up close to a group of characters walking the very edge of sanity.


5. Dead Calm (1989)

Nicole Kidman delivered a star-making turn in this ocean-going thriller from director Philip Noyce. Before she married Tom Cruise, Kidman gave a tenacious and resourceful performance as Rae Ingram, a married woman trapped on a boat with a murderous psychopath (played by Billy Zane). Meanwhile, on another boat, husband Sam Neill is attempting to come to her rescue.

The film does a brilliant job of milking its interior scenes for suspenseful effect. And the exterior shots are no less daunting: the film was shot on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and the sheer expanse of ocean appears to close in on Kidman's character. Fortunately, she rallies herself and emerges as someone of steely determination.


6. Cube (1997)

Director Vincenzo Natali's Cube can be seen as a predecessor to the later likes of Saw. It's set in one location, and focuses on a group of imperiled characters who are apparently at the whim of a madman. As they're forced to navigate the interior of a giant cube, deadly traps emerge at every turn to try and thwart their efforts.

Natali defies his low budget to craft some genuinely trippy and clever production design, which keeps us off-balance as the cube conspires to kill yet another helpless individual. It's now developed a reputation as a cult classic, and spawned two lackluster sequels.


7. Panic Room (2002)

David Fincher's ingenious suspense thriller takes place almost entirely inside a lavish Manhattan townhouse. This is where mother Jodie Foster and daughter Kristen Stewart have just recently moved. But bad news for them: a group of robbers are intent on pilfering millions of dollars hidden inside the building's panic room.

The bad news is, that's where Foster and Stewart have holed up. So begins a prolonged cat and mouse game, augmented by Fincher's roving camerawork that uses cutting-edge CGI effects to glide between walls and floors. It all reinforces the sense of claustrophobia surrounding the characters.


8. Saw (2004)

A psychotic serial killer locks two victims in a disused bathroom and messes with their heads in James Wan's blockbusting chiller. The low-budget Saw spawned a franchise of increasingly gory sequels. But the first film is a relatively more measured and restrained affair, with the grotty production design of said bathroom clueing us into the intense, frightening story.

Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell (who's also the screenwriter) are the two men forced to piece together clues left behind by the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell). And that memorably jaw-dropping twist ending is sure to give the phrase self-isolation a whole new meaning.


9. Buried (2010)

He's best-known for the likes of Deadpool, but actor Ryan Reynolds has gone to some dark places before. In the case of Buried, we mean that literally – his character wakes up in a coffin that's buried underground. Using a phone with a limited battery, some flares and a lighter, he must contrive a way out of this terrifying situation.

Little wonder that the condensed 17-day shoot messed with Reynolds' head. It's a difficult film for the audience to experience, let alone the actor, as time ticks away and the phone steadily loses power. If you watch it, never again will you complain about being forced to work from home.



What are your favorite confined spaces movies? Let us know @RegalMovies.