Some people genuinely suffer from claustrophobia, or fear of small, enclosed spaces. Though I have never had that fear, I had many nightmares as a child of being buried alive or stuck in the caves I used to play in with my Boy Scout troop. The list below is movies that give me that feeling of cramped, almost overwhelming intensity, of being stuck in a small place. These films take place in small spaces or a very limited environment. They play at my nightmares I had as a child, but some just increase the excitement as the spatial corridor of the film shrinks. So, here are my top five claustrophobic films.
2011 wasn’t very good to Ryan Reynolds. Both Green Lantern and The Change-Up failed to meet expectations. Also, they were just bad films. In Buried, Reynolds plays a government contractor who is overseas. He wakes up in a wooden coffin, with a lighter, a cell phone, and a limited supply of air. Using every ounce of energy he has, he must find out where he is and get dug up before he suffocates to death. It really is a testament to Reynolds skill that he takes a film in which he is the only actor, on the only stage (the wooden coffin), and makes a 90-minute film not just watchable but terrifying and realistic. Not every actor can do a one-man show in a casket and make it entertaining. And what kind of list would this be without a buried alive film in the mix?
Rachel Nichols in P2
I watched this movie after an ex-girlfriend recommended it. I had no idea it would be this good. Rachel Nichols, a favorite actress of mine, plays a workaholic who is late for Christmas Eve festivities with her family. When she finally gets to her car, it won’t start. Before long she realizes someone doesn’t want her to leave, forcing her into a game of cat and mouse in a basement-parking garage. This film knows to play it simple. We all know how confusing parking garages can get, and how every one of us looks over our shoulder when we enter one at night. This plays on that fear, making for a well-executed thriller that is as claustrophobic as it is scary.
– Executive Decision
Not far removed from its successor Air Force One, this film deals with a plane being hijacked by terrorists in a pre-September 11, 2001 world (they were released in 1996 and 1997, respectively). In Executive Decision, an intelligence analyst, played by Kurt Russell, must lead a special ops unit in taking back the plane. The entirety of the film rests on the team using techniques that allow them to move around the plane without being seen. In order for them to do this, the passenger cabin is too risky. So cameras planted above and below said cabin is what they have to resort to. The idea of secretly taking back a hijacked plane is an intriguing idea, regardless of the time. This film uses the tight spaces to create tension between the team and their reluctant analyst leader. An underrated action movie.
– Wind Chill
I’ve talked before about Wind Chill in my Breakdowns on winter movies and micro-returns, but this movie belongs on this list. Watching two people try to stay alive in a blizzard is tough enough. When you trap the characters in a car, the story becomes much more about the close confines and the lack of closeness between the characters. Despite making many smart moves to protect themselves from the dangerous cold, the weather is unrelenting. This futile situation just gets more and more dire as the film unfolds.
– Apollo 13
"Houston, we have a problem."
No one expected a mission to the moon to become such a desperate story of survival. Based on the true story of the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, we watch as three men go from ignored space travellers to men fighting to stay alive long enough to make it back to Earth. A better example of claustrophobic film isn’t out there. The trials astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swiggart, and Fred Haise go through, it’s amazing they made it back alive. Explosions, lack of oxygen, lack of any heat to protect from the freezing cold of space, they face it all. And doing it in a space capsule barely big enough to call a studio apartment back on Earth.