8 Movies shot in a single location

A collection of movies where action, as it may, is limited to a single set - a room, building or a boat. Each movie depends on narrative, characters and limited resources to tell the story instead of elaborate scenes or detailed costumes.

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is a classic of the minimalistic genre of movie making. Directed by Sidney Lumet, the movie from 1957 follows the back-room deliberations of a jury asked to return the verdict of a young Spanish-American in what seems to be a open and shut murder case. The jury of 12 white, males seems ready to jump to a guilty verdict, when one lone dissenting voice speaks out for slightly more deliberative approach.

The movie may be dated and long, but it is intense and gripping all the way. As each juror is forced to confront his own character flaws and prejudices, the movie weaves through the emotional melodrama upon which rests the life of a young man. Henry Fonda stars in this engaging courtroom drama.

The Man from Earth

When I first watched The Man from Earth, I was shocked that a story like this would ever be considered for a movie. The simplistic nature of the storyline involving little more than groups of conversations, was more suited to a book instead of the big screen. But it is that seeming dissonance that involves and captures the imagination of the viewer.

At an impromptu farewell party for a professor, a group of friends are treated to a most fantastic story. The professor claims to have been alive for more than 14,000 years and proceeds to describe details of his life from centuries ago. Even in the face of intense scrutiny and dismay from his friends he refuses to recant the story. As details emerge, different members of the farewell party react differently as each person's core beliefs are challenged.

An engaging tale of world history, interspersed with drama and emotion in a fantastic tale.

Lebanon

The M60 Patton tank is 22 feet long, 12 feet wide and carries a crew of four. If the crew are ill disciplined, inexperienced, drafted soldiers, who just want the war to be over - it makes the insides of the tank feel a lot smaller and more claustrophobic. Which is precisely the feeling conveyed by the movie Lebanon, which traces the first few days of the First Lebanon war of 1982. When the tank along with the small group of soldiers find themselves in a potentially deadly situation, it is up to blind luck to get them out.

The entire movie is shot within the tank, and all action is filmed as seen from the tank's periscopes. The inside of the tank is grimy, oily and for the most part littered with cereal. The movie offers no great moments of victory or redemption; there are no heroes, just survivors. It is this aimless tale that seeks to elicit the futility of war; an attempt it largely succeeds in.

Buried

Buried is an intense thriller that entirely takes place, first shot to the last, in a wooden coffin buried under the sands of Iraq. Joining the rarefied ranks of movies set in a minimalist locations, Buried brings it to a whole new level. Shot entirely in the tight confines of a wooden box, the movie employs tricky cinematography, extreme closeups and uncomfortable sound effects to take the audience along into the suffocating underground.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a defense contractor who drives trucks for the US Army in Iraq. When his convoy is ambushed and many of his fellow drivers killed, Paul is knocked unconscious and taken hostage. He wakes up to find himself in a coffin underground, with a cell phone, a lighter, a knife and a flashlight. Racing against rapidly depleting oxygen levels and battery power in his phone, Paul has to figure out a way to contact the outside world and save himself. When the phone rings for a impossible ransom call, the only question is whether it is a blessing or a curse.

Cube

Cube is what Saw could have been, but for the latter's unbridled ego mania. Cube is the distilled essence of the rage against The Man, fed intravenously through the cold veins of a psychopath. Yet, it portrays itself, successfully, as a simple survival quest filled with paranoia, intrigue, double cross and murder. And the movie manages to do all that while being shot in the closed confines of the Cube.

The premise of the movie is inventive, and satisfyingly, never fully unravels itself. Six people, completely unrelated to each other, find themselves locked in a mechanical cube, 14 feet across. Soon they realize that there are other cubes next to each other, all inter connected through hatches. Some cubes are safe to enter, others are rigged to kill - instantly. With no way to obtain food or water, the group must navigate the cubes and find a way out, or die of thirst and hunger. But only if they can first come to trust one another.

Moon

Moon is one of those slow, understated mystery movies, that emphasizes the prime purpose of movies: storytelling above all else. Restricted to the stark and claustrophobic confines of a moon base, the movie traces the last days of solitary life for Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), as he gets ready to head back to Earth after his stint managing mining operations for a critical clean-energy resource found only on the Moon.

As Sam goes about completing his missions, he begins to see and hear things that are not supposed to be. He keeps this from the lone humanoid presence on the base, the robot GERTY (Kevin Spacey), to not let anything interfere with the reunification with his wife and child on Earth. But, an unfortunate accident with a Harvester sets in motion a series of events that brings him that much closer to coming back to Earth and that much farther from home.

A slow, yet riveting drama, millions of miles away from home.

Lifeboat

Lifeboat is a 1944 classic hit by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. It deals with the survivors of a ship from US to England during World War II, who are stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic. Fortunately, for the survivors, the U-boat that attacked them was sunk as well. Unfortunately, one of the survivors of the U-boat, is on the lifeboat with them.

The movie is a reminder of the poignant vagaries of war, and the damage sustained to the human spirit during conflict. It shows how different people react to life threatening circumstances. The mellow acceptance, the belligerent defiance, the calm endurance and the indefatigable lust for life and survival. It is a classic movie, be warned that not many brought up on modern fare can adapt to it instantly. But there is something about Hitchcock's style that makes his movies uniquely timeless.

Closet Land

Closet Land is an indie thriller, the story of an author of children's books who is accused of embedding political messages in her stories. She is abruptly taken from her home in the middle of the night, and locked in a large interrogation room with a sadistic interrogator. As the author overcomes her initial shock and comes to terms with the sheer depravity of what is about to befall her, the interrogator flits between the cruel and absurd. Most movie takes place as dialogue between the two characters - the evil incarnate and the naive innocent. Starting off like a stage play, the movie develops in sophistication, sadism and cinematic depth, reaching almost a poetic crescendo.

Madeleine Stowe as the author and Alan Rickman are brilliant. The story is somewhere between implausible and irrelevant. The movie seems experimental, almost like the childrens's book Close Land.

Edit: Bonus movies - beyond the original 8.

Exam shoots for somewhere between an HR recruitment video and a post-apocalyptic survival tale, managing to land somewhere in between. Released in 2008, Exam, is a skewed look at drive and determination in a world where survival of the fittest is more than just a catchphrase. There are characters and stereotypes that definitely work, but there are also moments where the movie comes across as more than a little amateurish.

Eight candidates vying for one of the most coveted role ever, are put in a room for their final exam. There is never enough explanation as to why the job is so important. There are hints to a world radically different from ours, but having the backgrounds of the characters shrouded in mystery, it is not easy to show compassion. Each is given a paper that purportedly contains the one question that required one answer, along with a set of rules including - don't spoil your paper, don't choose to leave the room and don't choose to contact the invigilator or the guard. Turning the paper over reveals it to be blank. Pretty much everything from then on is a clever albeit heavily contrived story that unfolds in real time on screen.


Some honorable mentions: even though these were not technically shot in a single location, the primary storyline is set in a single location.

Quarantine/[REC]

A whole apartment complex in the middle of L.A. is quarantined after a quick acting zombie-causing virus is discovered. And stuck in the apartment is a reporter and her cameraman, that have been tailing a squad of firefighters responding to an emergency in the building.

The majority of the movie is shot in the apartment complex, using just one camera, from the point of view of a trapped reporter and her cameraman.

127 hours

The movie is based on the real life story of an capable yet arrogant hiker, who is caught in a freak accident and pinned with his arm stuck under a heavy boulder, in a Utah canyon. What follows is an intense survival story, battling insurmountable odds.

The screenplay has several scenes shot outside of the canyon, but just for the setting, this movie definitely belongs to a single location.

Hard Candy

Before Juno became Juno, she was still Ellen Page and acted in a movie called Hard Candy. As a super-mature 14-year old Haley, she decides to meet a 32-year old photographer Jeff that she got to know on the Internet. Other than the initial part of the movie where the two meet in a coffee shop, the rest of the movie is shot in Jeff's house and they first chat together, and slowly a darker more sinister side of Haley is revealed.

The story may have holes large enough that you could drive, wait for it, a house through, but it is nevertheless a well made intense psychological thriller. Ellen Page brings to life a talkative, chirpy, partly believable sinister girl. Patrick Wilson as Jeff is creepy and then some. Shot from the point of view of the "victim", it is worth have this in a list of must-watch single-location movies.

Devil

What do you do when you are stuck in an elevator and one of those stuck in there with you is the Devil? You pray the light never goes out and the firefighters get there - fast. The movie is an inventive thriller, balancing a tale between theology and terror. It is one of those rare movies that stays well within itself to create a terrifying paranormal mystery that, for once, does not insult the audience's intelligence.

There are many things in the movie that worked. The story was spot on. There is a dark, brooding tone to the movie, brought on by an abundance of deep wind instruments in the soundtrack and visuals featuring a darker, desaturated look. Camera work is top notch too, successfully toeing the line of the narrative. The acting is a bit in the light side, and that is probably for the better. And yet, visually the movie is dominated by action outside the elevator, and doesn't quite fall into the category of movies shot in a single location.

Phone Booth

The middle of Manhattan doesn't jump to the top of confined locations - nevertheless the movie Phone Booth is an entertaining movie shot in a limited location in and around a phone booth. Like the movie Quarantine, the movie does include flash-backs and alternate scenes set in different locations, but it was successful as an attempt to marketing a minimalist movie to a mass audience. And more importantly it introduced us to Stu - the slimey, unfaithful, scumbag, PR executive that Colin Farrell got us all to hate.

If you haven't already heard, the movie revolves around Stu, and an unnamed psychotic killer with a sniper rifle that has him on the phone and in his sights. As police surround Stu, he has to communicate this fact to them, while hoping to salvage his marriage that the sniper seems to know everything about.

Das Boot

It is almost impossible to talk about a single location movie without Das Boot on the list. This was a tricky one, because the movie while definitely restricted to one location - a submarine in the middle of a World War, is largely shot more theatrically, and does not necessarily convey the cinematographic difficulty presented by the rest of the movies on this list.

Yet the gritty thriller is the rearguard, for this list, being an almost perfect movie of the battle for survival of a German U-Boat in WWII. The movie takes an alternate stage to view the action, conveying the same feelings of fear, loss and courage while challenging the conventional view of the "enemy". If there is one movie on the list you should have watched - it is this one.

February 01, 2011

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