15 Times Characters Were Trapped And Made Us Feel Claustrophobic

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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.

Photo: Gerald's Game / Netflix

  • Though Captain Kirk might be one of the most beloved of Star Trek characters, he almost meets his match in the character of Khan, played by Ricardo Montalbán. Khan is a truly formidable foe for Kirk, and he even goes so far as to leave the venerable captain buried at the center of the planet Regula.

    It’s a remarkable moment, and it’s claustrophobic not just because it features Kirk being buried, but also because it’s one of the moments when he comes closest to actually being bested by a foe. As if all this weren’t enough, his shrieking of Khan’s name has gone down in history as one of the character's most famous utterances, and it is itself a primal scream of utter anguish and rage.

    17 votes
  • 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.

    33 votes
  • 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.

    39 votes
  • As with so many of Christopher Nolan’s efforts, The Prestige is a mind-bending and complex film. Within its story about a pair of dueling magicians are nested many other weighty issues and conundrums, and as always, the film emphasizes Nolan’s keen eye for visual detail.

    The ongoing feud between the magicians has many notable moments, one of the most notable of which is the instant when Robert Angier buries Borden’s assistant Fallon. At the narrative level, it’s a stunt designed to get Borden to reveal the truth about his technique for a trick known as the Transported Man; at the same time, however, it's also undeniably effective at creating a sense of claustrophobia in the viewer, a reminder of just how viscerally terrifying the thought of being buried alive remains.

    19 votes
  • 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.

    19 votes
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    8 VOTES

    Jessie Is Handcuffed To A Bedpost In ‘Gerald’s Game’

    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.

    8 votes