A crowded subway car. A stalled elevator. A round of Seven Minutes in Heaven. For most of us, each of these is just a run of the mill nuisance, an irritant through which to roll your eyes and hum during the average morning routine. But if and when the demon of claustrophobia sets in, any one of these cramped, clawing situations can become a waking nightmare.
The fear of being stuck — trapped, restricted, suffocated, or missing out on the really cool party in the bigger room — tends to be irrational in everyday situations. An onset of heavy breathing and an odd compulsion to shed layers takes hold of our anxious minds, even though we might very well be in no real danger. But movies... movies are generally a different story. Odds are, if you find yourself planted in some confining quarters for an extended period of time on the big screen, you're in for a heap of trouble.
We know that to be the case with The Call, an inaction thriller that straps Halle Berry to an office chair and shoves Abigail Breslin inside the trunk of a car for nearly the duration of the film. But while some people head to the theater to be excited by stray bullets and roof-to-roof chase sequences, The Call hones in on the sort of tension that bubbled the life blood of genre triumphs from the classics of Hitchcock to M. Night Shyamalan's most forgivable post-Unbreakable foray. Instead of being limited by their diminutive settings, these films used the agonizing enclosure to their advantage, roping the audience into the anxiety to the point of inviting entire theaters of hyperventilation.
Here are some entries that made us really appreciate the bounties of an open window...
Stuck in: A panic room.
Claustrophactor: Tack on the criminals worming their way through the rest of the house and young Kristen Stewart’s pressing diabetes issue, and you’ll need a few paper bags to breathe into.
Stuck in: A bedroom, and a wheelchair.
Claustrophactor: Doesn’t sound too strenuous, except for the fact that the main character’s best friend has a proclivity for sneaking over to the neighbor’s place to expose his nasty habit for murdering his spouses. That ought to drum up a few deep gasps.
Stuck in: A maniac’s torture chamber.
Claustrophactor: That’s actually the least of your worries here, what with all the, you know, graphic bodily harm. Bring along an extra bottle of water.
Stuck in: A German submarine.
Claustrophactor: You’re stuck in the ocean for two hours with a bunch of Germans. Don’t plan on leaving the film feeling particularly great.
Stuck in: Underground caverns.
Claustrophactor: Don’t mind the demons — the whole restrictive feeling of not being able to see your way through a pitch black, narrow canyon is enough to warrant some persistent nausea.
Stuck in: An elevator. A haunted elevator!
Claustrophactor: A five-by-five room with four other people and the forces of Satan? Don’t wear a heavy sweater to this one…
Stuck in: A crevasse, with your arm pinned down by a human-sized boulder.
Claustrophactor: At least James Franco has got fresh air and sunlight… but when the rain starts filling up that sliver of stone, you’re going to start feeling a little lightheaded.
Stuck in: A lifeboat.
Claustrophactor: Don’t let the below video’s music mislead you… you’re in for a grave sum of discomfort aboard this Hitchcock boat trip. Which reminds us — maybe we should add Boat Trip to this list…
The Breakfast Club
Stuck in: A high school library.
Claustrophactor: With the haunting omnipresence of Principal Vernon puppeteering the scathing hellfire that is peer judgment, this might be the most corrosively claustrophobic entry on the list.
Stuck in: A grave.
Claustrophactor: Those averse to small spaces will pass out in the first 10 minutes.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
[Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures]