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The Greatest One-Location Movies of All-Time

Written by on April 28, 2016 

Green Room 1

There’s something claustrophobic about a film set entirely in a single location, an unsettling feeling of being cornered in a confined environment, cut off from the rest of the world. Stories such as these require nuanced characters and thoughtful attention to narrative detail, many of which employ a theatrical feel, while others were literally sprung from a playwright’s pen. Their action sequences are merely verbal, characters revealing shocking truths and saying the unthinkable, while the setting forces them together until an often brutal conclusion. When people are trapped like rats, it’s no surprise they sometimes eat each other.

A new entry in this sub-genre, Green Room, a violent thriller from Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier expands this weekend. In the film, after a punk band witnesses a vicious murder, they find themselves trapped in the club’s green room, forced to fight their way out to freedom. On this occasion, we took a look back at some of the greatest examples of movies set entirely in one location, and even in some cases, one room. We hope you enjoy, and feel free to recommend your own favorites in the comments.

12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet)

12 Angry Men

In a court room, a young man stands accused of murdering his father with a switchblade. We see the defendant — we see his eyes, frightened and alone, painfully aware of his close proximity to the electric chair. This is the only time we will see the boy, as he watches the jury exit for deliberation, twelve anonymous men who will decide his fate. The shot dissolves to the men entering the jury room, where the remainder of the film’s drama plays out. At first vote, the jurors are in favor of convicting the boy, eleven to one. The one (Henry Fonda) genuinely doubts the boy’s guilt. What ensues is undeniably one of the finest dramas ever filmed, no surprise in hindsight from director Sidney Lumet, who made his feature debut with this gripping gem. Decked with a cast of sublime character actors, including Jack Warden, Lee J. Cobb and Martin Balsam, 12 Angry Men is an ageless and endlessly engrossing masterwork.

Dogville (Lars Von Trier)

Dogville

Miraculously, one of the most important films ever made about life in the United States was created by a man who’s never set foot on American soil. A film often misinterpreted as a condemnation rather than a warning, Lars Von Trier‘s Dogville is best known for its unusual employment of chalk outlines on the floor of a massive sound stage in place of sets. Evoking the feel of a stage production, these surface elements retreat to the background and we focus simply on the citizens of this one-dog town. Unquestionably, Von Trier is one of cinema’s most shameless provocateurs, using every tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal to stroke his audience’s fur against the grain. A depression-era tale set amidst the Rocky Mountains, we follow Grace (Nicole Kidman) a mysterious woman on the run from gangsters who finds refuge in Dogville. The townspeople reluctantly take her in, but slowly turn on her, eventually forcing Grace to wear a bell around her neck to prevent her escape. “In spite of everything, her suffering had created something of value,” insists the narrator,coldly describing this poor woman’s plight. As the credits roll David Bowie‘s “The Young Americans” plays on the soundtrack, a reminder that if Bowie can write his song, Von Trier is certainly entitled to his film.

The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel)

The Exterminating Angel

A group of wealthy, upper-class friends gather for a lavish dinner party, just as the waitstaff escape out the back door, plagued by a feeling of impending doom. There’s something terribly wrong about this dinner party, as any good Luis Buñuel fan would expect. As the guests gossip and snipe at each other, smiles never leaving their faces, the smell of fascism hangs in the air. When the party ends, the guests do not leave, feeling strangely compelled to remain inside this immaculate chateau, which will be slowly reduced to a foul and chaotic mess over the next few days. As civilization crumbles inside the room, men carefully remove their dinner jackets to sleep, attempting to hold onto some form of bourgeoisie normalcy. No different outside, a crowd of onlookers gather, bizarrely unable to enter the chateau’s courtyard for the same unknown reason. Sometimes The Exterminating Angel is deliriously funny, while at other times, Buñuel captures a dreadfully haunting tone, crafting images of immense strangeness and bewildering peculiarity. In his book, “My Last Sigh,” Buñuel recalled how at the time of its release, many critics wrongly interpreted a vast majority of the film’s meaning and imagery: “Everything was arbitrary. I only tried to evoke some sort of disturbing image.”

Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais)

Last Year at Marienbad

This hypnotic and impenetrable masterwork is not merely a film set in one location — it’s a film about its location and setting. Allow me to amend that statement: Last Year At Marienbad, a film about a man who meets a woman at a lavish spa and insists they’ve met before, could arguably be about a vast number of things, with which its director Alain Resnais would likely disagree. As Roger Ebert said in his review: “Incredible to think that students actually did stand in the rain to be baffled by it, and then to argue for hours about its meaning — even though the director claimed it had none.” It’s a film which unquestionably stalks the paths of memory, a tangible sense of yearning and loss in every whispered plea for affection. The woman (Delphine Seyrig) denies that she met the man (Giorgio Albertazzi) and indeed, we see differing versions of events to such a point that we cannot be sure of anything that happened. All the while, Francis Seyrig‘s Gothic score, preformed entirely on organ, drones on the soundtrack, trapping us spellbound in an unsettling embrace. Elegantly constructed and profoundly eerie, Last Year at Marienbad is a rare and singular jewel of ’60s French cinema.

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