blog

FYIVOD for the week of March 15th: Claustrophobia edition

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in FYIVOD, we survey the landscape online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, we’re looking at claustrophobic horror movies. Don’t go in there! And definitely don’t close that door! And whatever you do, don’t turn on that light!!

THIS WEEK’S THEME: Claustrophobic Horror

Are you afraid of tight spaces? Do you get nervous in long elevator rides? Do you leave the bathroom door open when you do unspeakable things in there? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have good news and bad news. The good news is they’re doing wonders with therapy these days. The bad news is you’re not going to watch any of this week’s FYIVOD movies until you get some because all of them are claustrophobic horror movies of the highest order, featuring characters crammed into tiny rooms and mistreated in all sorts of horrible ways. All for your enjoyment or your misery, depending on where your head’s at.

On SundanceNow
ATM (2012)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
$9.99 to rent or stream

You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re using an ATM machine and the next guy in line waits just a little too close to you and you think he’s trying to see your PIN number? ATM is like that, only 1,000 times worse. A couple of co-workers leave their company Christmas party and make a late night pitstop at an ATM vestibule where they are trapped, menaced, and tortured by a mysterious assailant. The film stars Brian Geraghty (THE HURT LOCKER), Josh Peck (THE WACKNESS), Alice Eve (SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE) and a Shadowy Figure Lurking In the Darkness (EVERY SLASHER MOVIE EVER MADE). Next time you bitch about the monthly fee on your checking account, just think of ATM and remember: at least you have your health.

On Netflix
BURIED (2010)
Directed by Rodrigo Cortes
Free for streaming plan members

Before he wrote ATM, screenwriter Chris Sparling made a splash in Hollywood with BURIED, an even more ambitious and claustrophobic horror movie about an American truck driver working in Iraq (Ryan Reynolds) who gets kidnapped and buried alive. All the driver has in the coffin with him is a lighter and a cell phone, which brings with it word from his kidnappers: call someone to pay $5 million dollars ransom or get ready to enjoy that coffin for all of eternity. BURIED, which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, is all about ingenuity: the ingenuity displayed by Reynolds’ character as he frantically searches for a way out of his tomb, and the ingenuity displayed by director Rodrigo Cortes as he frantically searches for new ways to make the sight of a man in a wooden box interesting.

On Amazon Instant Video
PHONE BOOTH (2003)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase

It’s kind of funny that this movie is just ten years old. Teenagers who stumble across the film on Netflix or Amazon or whatever probably don’t even know what a phone booth is. I can explain that: they were these things we used before cell phones to call people and also to change into our super-hero tights. But yes, back in 2002 there were still a couple phone booths left, and Colin Farrell plays the poor schnook who gets into one and finds himself at the mercy of unseen caller (the voice of Kiefer Sutherland, pre-24) who tells him that if he leaves the booth, he will shoot him with a high caliber rifle if he hangs up the phone. Why? Farrell is being punished for crimes against American accents (or for lying to his wife, I forget. Honestly, it’s been a few years since I’ve seen it). PHONE BOOTH is one of Joel Schumacher’s finer recent efforts, and the ways the film keeps complicating poor Farrell’s predicament and using camera placement and editing to keep things from getting too static is quite impressive.

On Hulu
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Directed by George A. Romero
Free to stream

If you’ve never seen George A. Romero’s seminal zombie classic — a film that launched a genre, several excellent sequels, and several hundred horrible imitators — here’s what I want you to. Close this article (actually minimize it, I think I get paid more the longer you stay on this page). Write an email to everyone you know, letting them know you’ll be out of touch for the next 96 minutes or so. Turn off your phone. And the lights. Close the blinds. And give yourself over to one of the scariest movies ever made. And then thank your lucky stars you don’t live in Pennsylvania in the middle of an inexplicable outbreak of flesh-eating. Though still well-remembered, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s tropes have been so thoroughly co-opted that some have forgotten how truly subversive it was back in 1968, not just for its graphic violence but for its African-American hero and subtle evocation of Vietnam-era American politics. Of course you’d already know that if you’d seen it already. So go do that now.

On iTunes
CUBE (1999)
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
$2.99 to rent, $3.99 to rent in HD, $4.99 to purchase

Here is a classic case of smart low-budget filmmaking. CUBE is about five characters ensnared in a giant — wait for it — cube, or rather a series of interconnected, cube-shaped rooms rigged with deadly booby traps. The five strangers need to work together to figure out the rules of the cube if they have any hopes of survival. But building a huge structure of rooms is expensive, so director Vincenzo Natali found a cost-cutting alternative. He built just one room, and had it play all the different locations by alternating the colored lights in the walls. This one gets bonus points for freaking out both claustrophobics and agoraphobics: not only is the atmosphere inside the cube stifling, any move the characters make to try to find a way out results in danger. So it’s scary being trapped and it’s scary trying to get out too!