A single-setting movie has the unique challenge of using a geographic restriction as a source of inspiration. Whether they're taking place in one room, a house, or even a submarine, single-location films have to keep our attention, build up tension, and keep things interesting even while sticking to the same general locale for the duration.
The best examples use their cinematic space to make even everyday locations feel urgent, claustrophobic, or microcosmic. Thus, it may be no surprise that the minimal-location format often works best with thrillers and horror movies - genres that can most naturally take advantage of their settings, placing pressure on characters increasingly desperate to escape. While most of these movies take place in a single day - or one night in Nakatomi Plaza - they all stand out for exhausting every ounce of storytelling potential from their surroundings.
Location: An apartment belonging to a man on the mend from a broken leg.
How the Action Unfolds: An Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window is about a photographer recovering from a broken leg while struggling with an implied case of impotence and waffling over whether or not to get married. To amuse himself and pass the time, Jeff (Jimmy Stewart) casually spies on neighbors and others passing nearby his New York apartment building. After overhearing an argument between a married couple living in a nearby unit, and then seeing the woman's husband carry away a large trunk, Jeff gets suspicious. When he realizes the neighbor's wife conspicuously hasn't reappeared since the argument, Jeff's interest is further piqued - and not just his curiosity but that of his ever-patient girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). Together, the two can't resist trying to get to the bottom of it. As the film glides toward its big finish, their amateur snooping gets them all too close to the truth - even as Hitchcock's camera remains squarely inside those same four apartment walls.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
The Location: A hot and sweaty jury room.
How The Action Unfolds: A dozen men deliberate the guilt of a young man accused of stabbing his father to death. Eleven vote to find him guilty; the lone holdout has his reasonable doubts. Juror No. 8 (Henry Fonda) doesn't proclaim the accused's innocence, but does broach a number of ambiguities and uncertainties he wants addressed before passing a deciding vote. Rather than delivering a quick unanimous decision that'll get everyone out of that sweltering jury room early, they spend the rest of the day deliberating, as Juror No. 8 tries to get them to ask questions they may not have thought of the first time around. As the room gets more physically and emotionally heated, biographical details of the jurors emerge, underlining the biases and limited frames of reference that may have affected their initial votes - and their reluctance to change their minds.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
The Location: A small-town grocery store in Maine.
How The Action Unfolds: Single locations make great backdrops for thrillers - supernatural or otherwise - and the Stephen King adaptation The Mist takes full advantage. When a powerful storm strikes a small Maine town, a man and his son head out to a local grocery story for supplies. Various other townspeople - as well as soldiers from a nearby military installation - had the same idea. A mysterious mist envelops the store, in effect trapping everyone inside. Terrifying creatures intermittently emerge from the haze. Several people try to leave to seek help - or gather weapons - but their efforts don't get very far. Stuck in the shop with no explanation - either of the mist itself or the homicidal beasts awaiting the survivors outside should they try to escape - the townspeople are swayed by a religious extremist who calls for a human sacrifice to atone for the sins of humanity and end the carnage. The film balances the fear of the supernatural with the characters' deteriorating grasp on reality as the oppressive confines of the supermarket facilitate an atmosphere of accelerating psychological chaos.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%
The Location: A cabin in the woods.
How the Action Unfolds: A group of young people head out to party in a cabin in the woods, where they accidently summon a demonic force. The protagonist, Ash (Bruce Campbell), has to slay his girlfriend once she's possessed by a demon. Of course, since she's a demon, she can't perish, so she comes back to torment him until he finally deals with her body. One by one, the members of the group are slain and possessed by otherworldly forces, leaving Ash as the only one left to survive through the night.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%