When the weather outside is frightful, these 8 films are quite delightful; so stay inside by choice, but take comfort in knowing you’re not trapped.
Sometimes, it’s far too miserable outside to leave the house. It seems we spend months sheltering ourselves from the brutal cold — the dirty grey slush, the endless scraping of ice off the car, the merciless slash of wind and snow at any part of skin left bare. Then we have a brief Spring fling only to be plunged into the scorching savagery of Summer — maxing out the A/C as we hide from the suffocating humidity and deadly heat. It’s not long before cabin fever sets in.
And there’s the real problem. Stay in long enough, and you’ll do almost anything to get out. The walls start closing in, you can’t breathe, and your nearest and dearest start seeming, well, downright sinister.
Fortunately, when the weather outside is murderous, you can dive into these eight great movies. Taking place in just one location, each of these films are their own bottle episodes, forcing characters to confront each other, to confront themselves. Compared to these, your stuffy house will start feeling downright cozy again.
1. Pontypool (2008)
So sure, maybe you’re stuck in the house with nowhere to go. Maybe you feel like you can’t breathe, and you can’t get out. Well, the winter winds and summer sizzle haven’t got a thing on a horde of violent zombies…
If you haven’t seen PONTYPOOL, you’re in for a major treat. Set almost entirely in a radio station in Pontypool, Ontario, shock-jock Grant Mazzy covers what seems to be a zombie outbreak in the middle of a blizzard. Between trying to decipher reports and fighting off coworkers, Mazzy discovers that language itself is the carrier of the deadly infection. As the local king of the airways, Mazzy and his team try to find a cure and save the town before it’s too late.
PONTYPOOL is a unique gem of a film, one that starts with an unnerving jump-scare and gets more intriguing with each passing minute.
Stephen McHattie plays Mazzy with a grizzly, engaging quality — and the perfect raspy/smooth voice. Lisa Houle as caustic station manager Sydney Briar is his perfect foil. Their relationship adds a note of sweetness to this tense thriller about the terrible danger in what we say and how we say it.
2. 100 Feet (2009)
Even though you feel you might burst into flames, you still can get outside if you really need to. But what if you had every reason in the world to leave your house — and an ankle bracelet keeping you in? What if you were under house arrest with a poltergeist?
100 FEET stars Famke Janssen as Marnie Watson, a woman under house arrest for killing her abusive husband in self-defense. She’s watched obsessively by Lou Shanks (Bobby Cannevale), a cop and her dead husband’s former partner. Lou is eager for any excuse to throw Marnie in jail, even while remarking on her obvious facial bruises.
See, Marnie’s abusive husband didn’t stay dead, and he continues to take his rage out on her from beyond the grave. With the help of naïve delivery boy Joey (Ed Westwick) Marnie tries to rid her house of her husband’s relentless presence while staying clear of his trigger-happy partner waiting outside.
With no theatrical release, 100 FEET is one of those movies you happen upon during late-night scrolling. And despite that, it’s a solidly scary flick, which that answers the standard “Why don’t they just leave the house?” argument that plagues so many poltergeist movies, and puts by putting poor Marnie in a hopeless situation. Marnie and Lou are both enjoyably multidimensional, Lou struggling with his passive complicity in the abuse, Marnie exhausted and hopeless, with flashes of rage at her predicament.
Many haunting movies can come across as hokey; the antics of the poltergeist are often silly and childish. (Think open cabinets and stacked chairs.) The violence in 100 Feet (at least for the most part) is, for the most part, startling and brutal. This monster feels real.
3. Devil (2010)
Feel like those four walls are squeezing in tighter and tighter? At least you’re not stuck in the elevator from hell…
In DEVIL, five strangers are trapped in an elevator in a high-rise building. It’s not long before the power starts going — and each time it shuts off, a new and vicious attack is perpetrated on one of the five. As Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) works to make sense of it all, those in the elevator start to turn against each other.
Is this the devil, or simply the product of a devilish mind? And which of these not-so-innocent victims is the killer.
DEVIL was the proposed first of “The Night Chronicles Trilogy” in which M. Night Shyalaman’s stories were created by different sets of filmmakers, and DEVIL was heavily marketed as a Shyalaman film. Unfortunately, in 2010, Shyalaman had come off of two terrible flops with THE HAPPENING and THE LAST AIRBENDER, the. The trilogy was abandoned, and this fun, delightfully evil little film got lost in the shuffle.
While heavy handed at times, the camera work adds excitement to the film’s tiny space, and it’s damn impressive that a cast of seven can keep you guessing for the length of a feature.
4. Misery (1990)
In some of the best of these films, that claustrophobic feeling comes not just from the space, but of from the intense pressure of unrequited love. It’s no coincidence they call it a “crush, ” and in these next two movies, romantic obsession makes those close settings downright suffocating.
Stephen King is the master of cabin fever. While GERALD’S GAME, THE SHINING, THE MIST, and 1408 are all adaptations that will serve you well in this regard, only Annie Wilkes brings her piquant brand of crazy to our claustrophobic theme.
In MISERY (1990), romance novelist Paul Sheldon is on his way home when a snowstorm hits and he is driven off the road. He is found by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, and taken to her isolated cabin. As Annie nurses Paul back to health, she reveals herself as an obsessive fan of Sheldon’s novels, and particularly his heroine, Misery Chastain. Unfortunately, Sheldon’s killed off Misery in his newest novel, and Annie isn’t pleased…
Played with riveting energy by James Cann, Paul Sheldon, having broken both his legs, is well and truly trapped in the cabin. He is miles from any neighbors, and unable to even reach a phone. His only hope is to manipulate his increasingly unhinged hostess. Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes (in a role that made her career) with a hair trigger: one moment sweet and girlish, the next filled with a terrifying, self-righteous fury.
This role could so easily have fallen into over-the-top caricature, but her Oscar-winning performance is a master class in balance. She is at once your friendly next-door neighbor and a nightmare incarnation of obsessive fandom. Watch this one, and remember you’re lucky you don’t have that one creepy Insta-lurker emptying your bedpans.
5. The Hole (2001)
In THE HOLE, Thora Birch plays Liz, a high school outcast and one of four students who had been missing for the past 18 days. In meeting with a psychiatrist, Liz reveals that her friend Martyn (Daniel Brocklebank) locked her and several other students in an abandoned underground bunker in order to get Liz some alone time with popular guy Mike (Desmond Harrington), who Liz has a crush on. Along with Mike, Liz was also trapped with Geoff (Laurence Fox) and Frankie (Kiera Knightly, in her first major feature role.)
Liz recalls how the high school social strata began to disintegrate as they searched for food, water, and a way to escape. As the days dragged on inside the hole, some friendships would be forged and others broken, and a can of Coke would be a prize worth killing for. But there are some things in Liz’s tale that just don’t add up. What really happened in that bunker? And how far did these kids go for love?
THE HOLE has been described as a teen-angst- driven LORD OF THE FLIES.
To a certain extent that’s true, although that description doesn’t do justice to its deliciously campy early 2000’s aesthetic, bringing to mind THE CRAFT and GINGER SNAPS, (although, being based in reality, is significantly darker than both). There are several twists and turns in the film, and, though much of it is told in flashback, the story is coy enough so that you don’t immediately know the fate of the teens involved, or the truth buried in Liz’s stories.
6. Bug (2006)
Of course, there’s all different kinds of crazy. Some cabin fever makes you hate the people you’re with. Some makes you closer. When you’re locked inside, some crazy is contagious.
In BUG, waitress Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is introduced to recently discharged soldier Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), and there is an immediate connection. Soon Peter reveals that he’s been the subject of government experiments, and their room has been infested with flesh-eating bugs (invisible to the audience).
Agnes comes to believe Peter’s story, and they feed each other’s madness, putting foil on the walls of her seedy hotel room and hanging flypaper, all to rid themselves of the government’s influence. It gets worse when Peter decides the bugs are already inside him—-and they have to get out.
BUG, which was originally a play by the incomparable Tracy Letts, is saved from feeling like a play by some ingenious direction by William Friedkin. Friedkin directs this film with an energy that buzzes and crackles around Judd and Shannon. You are swept into a romance that slips sideways into a paranoiac fantasy.
At the point where Peter and Agnes start seeing the little buggers you start wondering how far these people will push each other. And, though you’ll definitely be disturbed, you certainly won’t be disappointed.
7. Cube (1998)
In a list full of ramshackle old apartments, dingy bomb shelters, and sleazy motel rooms, this one tight space has a particularly futuristic vibe. Say what you like about your cramped apartment;, at least it isn’t trying to kill you.
CUBE begins with five strangers that who wake up in a room with no memory of how they got there. The room itself, a cube, has a hatch in the wall that, when opened, leads to another, identical cube. And so on. Problem is, many of these rooms have different traps to kill those inside. The strangers must overcome paranoia, confusion, and each other to find out how to make it out of this place.
That is, if there is a way out. It’s the pressure that gets to us in a bottle movie. That or a flesh-dicing laser.
CUBE, with its single location, its minimal characters, and its bold sense of mystery is a masterwork of low budget indie cinema, and a template for a thousand direct-to-video copycats.
Unlike many, however, much of the central mysteries of CUBE are left as obscure at the end as they are at the beginning. What we are meant to focus on is not the villain, but human nature under stress. There is something about being a rat trapped in a cage that brings out the best of humanity and the worst of it. Villains have a chance to redeem themselves. Heroes can fall, or panic, or even die. In the end, it’s not about who is good, or who is bad. It’s just who’s lucky.
8. Buried (2010)
All these films have got plenty of tight spaces, but there’s nothing like a premature burial to get you gasping into a paper bag.
BURIED ALIVE, KILL BILL VOL 2, and THE VANISHING all are great examples, but only one film combines the intensity of a bottle episode with only one actor — and the most claustrophobic space there is.
BURIED (2010) stars Ryan Reynolds as Paul Conroy, a civilian truck driver who has taken a job in Iraq. He is attacked, taken hostage, and wakes up in a wooden coffin with little more than a cell phone and lighter. The entire movie is set inside this coffin, with Paul desperately to contact, someone, anyone, who can find him before his oxygen runs out.
As Paul struggles to escape, he also has to contend with his kidnapper, who is demanding a 5 million dollar ransom from the US and some additional, grislier sacrifices from Conroy himself.
If none of those other films got to you, BURIED surely will. One would think that the gimmick of BURIED would get dull, but the story deftly weaves physical turmoil and hints at infidelity through the Conroy’s psychological drama. The entire 95 minutes are riveting, and Conroy’s attempts to get help on the ground are a wry indictment of the cost of civilian life during wartime.
At once entertaining and terrifying, see this one, and it’s more than likely your tiny apartment will seem palatial.
So go ahead, hide from the outside and check these features out. Though the weather can turn on a dime, we all hold onto the dream of that one perfect 72-degree summer day. Then, finally, you’ll be ready to push aside the pizza boxes and emerge from your chrysalis, blinking in the sunshine. Spreading wide the wings of your woman-suit.