15 Times Characters Were Trapped And Made Us Feel Claustrophobic
Vote up the situations you would never want to be trapped in.
Film has a unique power to arouse powerful, primal emotions in its viewers. Due to its visual nature, it seems to have a unique relationship with the most basic of impulses. This, in turn, makes it particularly well-suited to tapping into and expressing some of humanity’s deep collective fears, and few phobias are as ubiquitous as claustrophobia.
The best of such films can make a person feel as if they, like the characters, are trapped in a situation from which they cannot escape, which makes the almost inevitable release much more satisfying. In the world of film, few things are as satisfying as a timely escape.
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Jessie Is Handcuffed To A Bedpost In ‘Gerald’s Game’Photo: Netflix
Though claustrophobia is often associated with enclosure in tight spaces, like coffins and tunnels, it also manifests as a fear of total physical restraint.
In Gerald’s Game, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, the character of Jessie ends up handcuffed to a bedpost after her husband dies of a heart attack during an argument. Thereafter, she contends not just with the ugly reality of being totally restrained, but also with the various traumas she has sublimated in her unconscious.
Thus, the claustrophobia in Gerald’s Game works on two interconnected levels: On one hand is the simple fact of the main character not being able to move through most of the film; on the other, there's the pervasive sense of having to contend with one’s own demons. As a result, the film is rife with tightly wound suspense, the effect of which is used to drive its message home.
With its skilled blend of action, western, and comedy, Shanghai Noon is an excellent vehicle for its stars, Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Wilson is, of course, quite likable as the character Roy O’Bannon (who, it turns out, is really Wyatt Earp).
There are many unlikely (and sometimes outright ridiculous) twists and turns in the story, one of which sees Roy buried up to his neck in the sand while vultures circle ahead. Obviously, it's mostly played for laughs, but there’s no denying there's also something deeply upsetting about seeing someone rendered so powerless.
He does ultimately get free, but before then, the film invites the viewer to feel a profound sense of disquiet at his predicament.
- Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Few things are more terrifying than the thought of literally being buried alive; however, this is exactly what happens to the character Paul Conroy in the aptly titled film Buried. The film opens with him waking, only to realize he has been kidnapped by terrorists and must pay a ransom if he hopes to emerge from his interment.
Buried excels at immersing both the character (ably portrayed by Ryan Reynolds) and the viewer in the terrifying world of a coffin. What’s particularly remarkable is the extent to which it manages to exploit this particular narrative conceit without it coming to seem overly contrived.
Indeed, the tightness of both the drama and the camera angles makes the film almost unbearably suspenseful and claustrophobic, a true achievement and a testament to the power of film to evoke the most terrifying and unpleasant emotions in its viewers.
- Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
Outlandish in all of the best ways, the 1996 film Matilda is a fitting adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel. Of particular note is Mara Wilson, who does a superb job (as always) of portraying the oft-victimized titular character.
One of the many torments this poor girl endures is being thrown into the area known as the Chokey by the nefarious Miss Trunchbull, who wants to punish the young Matilda for her father’s misdeeds.
The Chokey is, indeed, a horrifying place, and the claustrophobia of the moment is made all the more affecting by Wilson’s wide-eyed innocence. The thought of a child being sentenced to spend time in what is essentially solitary confinement is particularly disturbing.
Though it’s a cartoonish moment, there’s still something visceral and unsettling about it, as one would expect from any adaptation of Dahl's work.
- Photo: Miramax Films
Quentin Tarantino does many things well as a director, and he's particularly adept at evoking strong emotions, both in his characters and among those sitting in the audience.
This is particularly evidenced in both Kill Bill and its sequel, Kill Bill: Volume 2, and the audience is repeatedly led to identify with and cheer for Uma Thurman’s the Bride, arguably one of the most formidable action heroines to have emerged from the cinema.
At a key moment in Volume 2, Bill himself seals the Bride in a coffin and buries it. Of course, this is the Bride, and she isn’t one to simply roll over and accept defeat. To this end, she manages to use the skills she developed earlier to free herself, though this also requires her to claw her way to the surface.
The cloying claustrophobia of Tarantino’s cinematography makes her eventual freedom from the ground even more liberating and exciting.
- Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
Hollow Man is a unique and disturbing take on the idea of the invisible man. Kevin Bacon stars as Sebastian Caine, a man who takes a serum which renders him invisible, only to slowly be driven mad by its side effects, becoming a murderous monster.
As the action unfolds, Sebastian slowly turns against his former friends and colleagues, including Elizabeth Shue’s Linda McKay, whom he traps in a freezer with her injured boyfriend, Matt (Josh Brolin). It’s a terrifying moment.
There is, of course, the unsettling sensation of being trapped in an enclosed space with a wounded and bleeding person; just as importantly, however, it’s also a distillation of just how powerless Linda has become in the face of Sebastian’s sinister power and his all-encompassing and murderous madness. In a film filled with unsettling moments, this one is a stand-out.