In the fantastic Icelandic thriller Trapped, now available on SBS On Demand, a small town is forced to welcome a massive cruise-liner worth of people during the storm of the century.
For chief of police Andri Olafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), he has no choice but to keep a long line of spinning plates in the air – fighting known and unknown obstacles to control the situation before it becomes a situation (thanks for the line, Tarantino/Keitel). It's a task which, for now at least, seems impossible.
Throwing a group of actors into a pressure-cooker of a location can yield fantastic results. Here are seven examples of it working...
12 Angry Men (1957)
Though it was nowhere near being the first locked room film, Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is undoubtedly the first of its kind to end up a household name. Apart from a brief scene in a courthouse, we spend the entire movie in the jury's deliberation room, where we learn about each of the men through their position on the guilt of the accused – whether set-in-stone or unsure. As the film progresses, the more personal the relationships between the jurors becomes, further complicating the deliberation process.
In my opinion, Misery stands alongside The Shining as the only other Stephen King adaptation to have been more effective on the screen than on the page.
Directed by Spinal Tap and When Harry Met Sally…’s Rob Reiner, this classic thriller puts us right in that bed with cynical novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan), forced to endure the disturbing psychological torture of obsessive fan Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, in one of the all-time best screen performances). In my mind, no onscreen locked location story touches Misery, and thanks to this entry I know what I’m re-watching this evening.
Talk about an ingenious idea to suit a micro-budget. James Wan, the Aussie director that sparked the torture-porn resurgence, did so in a clever, twisty and genuinely stomach-churning film. It’s just a shame it’s the villain’s violent trickery, and not the cinematic ingenuity, that became a trend. Ah well, Wan must have noticed the monster he created, returning to classic horror with The Conjuring, then taking a break from the dark side to take on one of those furious and fast movies starring all those bald dudes.
In Treatment (2008-10)
Yes, spending each half-hour episode with a therapist and his patients isn’t a universally appealing concept – probably more suitable for webisodes (hello, Web Therapy) than broadcast or cable TV. Nevertheless, it works in the Gabriel Byrne-led HBO three-season gem. Byrne plays psychologist Paul Weston, a man with as many issues as his patients. Each season boasted multiple five-episode cycles - four patients visiting Paul from Monday-Thursday, and Paul visiting his own therapist on Friday.
When watching the Ryan Reynolds-starring Buried, don’t think too much about the situation’s believability and just pretend you’re in the coffin with him. A man wakes up buried alive, and we spend the entire film with him battling the need for light and oxygen, as well as a motherf***ing snake, with only a few odds and ends, and a dying mobile phone to help him escape. It’s perhaps the most locked locked-location offering of all time, and even writing about it is igniting my claustrophobia.
Cast Away (2000)
Around 90 percent of this film takes place in a seemingly inescapable location, with Hanks's character, Chuck Noland, forced to use a variety of ingenious (or slightly insane) methods to stay alive. Methods like using an ice-skating boot to smash an infected tooth out of his mouth.
No wonder he ended up best friends with a volleyball. A volleyball you all cried over when it drifted away. Don’t pretend you didn’t. You may, however, pretend the cheesy coda with Helen Hunt didn't happen and that Cast Away ended with Chuck’s rescue.
Bottle episodes from Breaking Bad / The Sopranos (2010, 2001)
If Abed from Community was watching Breaking Bad’s “The Fly” or The Sopranos’ “Pine Barrens”, he’d announce to the study group: “It’s a bottle episode!"
It’d be remiss to leave out the trend of locked-location episodes in quality television shows. What are usually created as low-budget, mid-season self-contained stories to conserve money for later, grander episodes also usually end up winners.
When Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) spend an entire episode searching Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) lab for contamination in the form of a single fly, the whole thing takes stock of Walt’s psychological state up until that point, as well as his relationship with Jesse. It’s a stellar episode that ranks among the show’s greatest offerings, even if it's not so typically Breaking Bad.
Then there’s “Pine Barrens”, directed by future cast member Steve Buscemi. The brunt of the episode sees Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie (Tony Sirico) unable to escape the snowy New Jersey woodlands after botching a hit on a superhuman Eastern European former war vet. Whether or not you enjoy The Sopranos, you’ll love this episode.
The entire series of Trapped is available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here: