Sisters are reunited at a secluded estate in the woods in Mona Fastvold’s brooding, restrained study of family dysfunction in The Sleepwalker. “The unplanned sibling visit turns into a socially awkward weekend getaway. There’s table banter and after-dinner dancing (to instrumental Yo La Tengo) in the vast, lamp-lit parlor,” writes Jordan Hoffman for The Guardian. “These scenes glide along, evolving into near surrealism once our characters turn in for the night and succumb to the titular somnambulism.” Relying on emotional performances, the remote house serves as the movie’s primary location — a striking manifestation of the sisters’ “self-contained universe” — where the dark family history unravels. We look at other films that find their inspiration from single locations, reflecting the interior world of their characters.
The first of Roman Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy,” 1965’s Repulsion unravels one woman’s traumatic past, manifest in the crumbling, rotten apartment she sequesters herself in — the site of her total breakdown. Psychological wounds become fissures in the walls around her and phantasmagorical visions lurk around every corner.
The vastness of space overwhelms a small base set on the far side of the moon in Duncan Jones’ 2009 science fiction film. A lone lunar space explorer wanders the utilitarian white of his surroundings, an unconscious doppelgänger his only companion. The design takes a cue from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, stark and cold.
One of Hitchcock’s best, 1954’s Rear Window is confined to a Greenwich Village apartment — just like its wheelchair-bound protagonist, James Stewart’s Jefferies. An overgrown courtyard and the surrounding apartments become a lively pseudo-cinema screen where Jefferies watches his neighbors with binoculars. In the process, he accidentally witnesses a murder. The framing and camerawork reveal the events as though seen through Hitch’s voyeuristic eye.
Part chamber mystery, whodunit, and haunted house throwback, Clue is perhaps the only movie that successfully recreated a board game (seemingly very trendy at the moment with films like this year’s Ouija). The ominous, gothic mansion where a group of strangers partake in dinner and a dangerous “chase” adds atmosphere to our suspenseful journey through every dark hallway of the house.
The Breakfast Club
High school sucked. Imagine being trapped there on a Saturday with people you don’t really like. The students of John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club endured such agony, but the library setting becomes a safe space to reveal their true selves to one another while they dream of a better future.
Sometimes Game of Thrones director Neil Marshall has a penchant for tight quarters, demonstrated in his film The Descent. The all-female horror movie takes place inside a previously unexplored cave system, which the women visit during a holiday spelunking trip. Soon trapped there, the adventurers are forced to crawl through claustrophobic rock tunnels while being chased by an unknown predator. Marshall toys audiences through lighting and sound to mimic the suffocating terror under the earth.
A family vacation is a time to relax and unwind from the stresses of life. That’s not the case in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, in which a family is held hostage by two intruders — the safest of spaces violated.
Woman in the Dunes
We recently wrote about Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes in our survey of Essential Japanese New Wave Films:
“Woman in the Dunes is a modern version of the myth of Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to spend eternity rolling a boulder to the top of a hill, only to see it roll back down,” Roger Ebert wrote in his 1998 review of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s award-winning adaptation of Kobe Abe’s novel. Trading rock for sand, Teshigahara depicts the complicated relationship between an entomologist and a widow who are forced to live in the bottom of a sandpit where they routinely shovel sand to stay alive. Ebert concluded: “Unlike some parables that are powerful the first time but merely pious when revisited, Woman in the Dunes retains its power because it is a perfect union of subject, style and idea. A man and a woman share a common task. They cannot escape it. On them depends the community—and, by extension, the world.”
Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth takes place inside a nonsensical world where words as we know them have strange meanings (a “zombie” is a flower, for starters). A group of siblings are confined to the family compound, unaware of the outside world — until the anxiety of truth instinctually forces one of the daughters to extremes.
Paranoia abounds in John Carpenter’s The Thing, where a horrific creature stalks a group of researchers at an Antarctic station. The “thing” tricks them, taking on the appearance of its victims, turning the group against each other. Bound by snow and ice, the desolate setting reminds us there is no easy escape.