Plenty of horror films have been described as "claustrophobic" over the years, but for people who actually experience claustrophobia - the fear of enclosed or narrow spaces - some movies are unwatchable. Phobias are often used as inspiration for films that seek to incite fear, whether that's an aversion to holes or terror inspired by the open ocean. These movies to avoid if you have claustrophobia are likely to incite nightmares or worse.
If you have claustrophobia, you may find just reading about some of these flicks to be an uncomfortable experience. The best claustrophobic movies are quite terrifying for those who are genuinely unnerved by tight spaces.
The Descent is frightening enough to give even folks who don't have claustrophobia a solid taste of it. In this modern horror classic, six women are trapped in a cave system in the Appalachian Mountains, where they must combat flesh-eating subterranean creatures known as "crawlers."
Shot in the UK, The Descent simulates caving with scenes in which the six lead characters crawl and climb through tight spaces. The sets for these spaces were constructed at Pinewood Studios in London. Production designer Simon Bowles referenced the world's "most spectacular cave systems" to create the set. He reused pieces to make different chambers by rearranging them and turning them on their sides.
Enhancing the claustrophobic feeling is the decision to limit the lighting to what the characters had on them, such as headlamps and flares.
Before he was super famous, Ryan Reynolds was a truck driver named Paul who gets trapped in a wooden coffin. Paul is captured in Iraq, taken hostage, and held for ransom. The entire film takes place inside the coffin with Paul as he navigates an escape plan and uncovers the reason he is in this predicament.
The Guardian warned, "If you can take the sheer, asphyxiating, chest-crushing terror, then this is for you." You don't even need to be claustrophobic to find both the concept and delivery of this film terrifying.
The found-footage format so popular among horror movies can increase the feeling of claustrophobia, as demonstrated in As Above, So Below. This film enhances it even more in that the characters are exploring the Catacombs beneath Paris - a series of underground ossuaries holding the bones of millions of people.
The claustrophobia mounts as the characters become increasingly lost in the secret, flooded, and collapsed tunnels beneath the city. As Above, So Below also brings in ancient alchemy, supernatural horrors, and mirrored rooms where the characters traverse the caves upside-down, which doesn't help matters one bit.
Quentin Tarantino's two-part martial arts/exploitation/revenge epic is full of wild adventures. One such experience is especially discomforting for claustrophobic viewers. In Volume 2, the Bride (Uma Thurman) is trapped underground and has to use a technique taught to her by her ancient Japanese master (of course) to get out. Although brief, this scene manages to make audiences feel as if they have been there along with the Bride.
When asked what it was like to film the scene, Thurman told the Daily Mail, "I am claustrophobic, but you don't really have to be claustrophobic to feel being buried alive. The sound effects ended up being so effective. I mean, the raw sound... and the sound of dirt hitting the wooden lid."