Turn off the Lights

The Best and Worst ‘One Location’ Thrillers

This weekend at the movies, Sam Worthington will step out onto a ledge, but will he or won't he jump? Sounds compelling, right?

Well, whatever you think about Man on a Ledge, it's hard to deny the uniqueness of films that rely upon just one setting for 90-plus minutes. Nor can you say the director doesn't have at least a little courage—even if things don't always work out. With that in mind, we're looking back at some other films that used their single settings to do something (or try to do something) awesome. Not all these films are great, but they do have one thing in common: they find interesting ways to make the characters and viewers claustrophobic.

GOOD: The Shining
The Overlook Hotel. With the exception of the dread-building opening shot, the entire film takes place there, and it manages drive old Jack Torrance mad, what with the cold and the blood and the creepy little girls. More so than any other setting on this list, this one is alive and it's just sucking the life and the sanity out of the poor saps cooped up there all winter long.

BAD: Phone Booth
Here's a more recent film that's far from a masterpiece, but not as bad as some of the others on this list. Very early on, director Joel Schumacher puts Colin Farrell in a phone booth, and there he stays with the scope Kiefer Sutherland's sniper rifle pointed right at him. At least it sticks to its guns, and the setting is more than a little claustrophobic, but like most B-grade thrillers (and all Joel Schumacher movies) it concludes with some epic silliness and inconsistencies galore.

GOOD: 127 Hours
A Best Picture nominee from 2010 (and one of the best films of that year), Danny Boyle tells the story of Aron Rolston, a lone wolf adventurer who gets trapped by a boulder while rock climbing. But without that rock, there is no story, and though it might not seem cinematic on the surface, trust us; this is one of the most grueling but rewarding films you'll ever watch.

BAD: Buried
This is actually a terrible movie. It manipulates its audience and treats its main character cruelly, but it's hard to write a list like this without at least mentioning Buried. It's probably the most literal cinematic interpretation of "stuck in one spot" ever conceived. From the moment the film begins to its awful conclusion, we're buried alive with Ryan Reynolds. It's not fun, but you'll definitely feel claustrophobic.

GOOD: The Exterminating Angel 
If you're unfamiliar with this one, here's its premise: A group of very wealthy and powerful Spaniards gather for a dinner party only to find they are physically unable to leave the room they gather in. There's no explanation for why this happens, but we watch them slowly turn into savages as days stuck in this room turn to weeks. No film in history has used the idea of being stuck somewhere in a more original way. Seriously, the balls on director Luis Bunuel to make this film—and more to the point, to not explain why his group of upper-class goons can't leave—are unbelievable. The film is both insane and a stroke of genius.

BAD: Devil
Imagine being stuck in an elevator. Sounds terrible, right? Now, imagine one of the other people on your elevator is the devil. Sounds scary? No, you're right, it isn't. It is pretty hilarious though. This M. Night Shymalan production induced laughs from audiences just watching the trailer. If you didn't have the pleasure of seeing it in theaters, take it from us: It's a howler and even more fun with an audience. But is it a good movie? Not even close.


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