I have a predilection for single location movies for the same reason we believe we can hear better with our eyes closed. Whilst I enjoy the creativity necessary to combat the relative restrictions on narrative, I am more interested in how the parameters of single location movies often engender the necessity to rely on other areas, such as dialogue. I love all aspects of film, and I would say that my top fifty movies are perhaps more alike in tone than genre or execution but, for me, a well written picture is almost always going to supersede a triumph of cinematography or performance. And, just like closing your eyes to hear better, single location movies typically have to rely more heavily on dialogue, imaginative conceit, or characterisation.
Of course, there are also many terrible single location movies because they’re cheap and easy to make, which means budding filmmakers can dream up a simple variation on the ‘people locked in a room’ plot and knock it out in a few weeks: see Netflix’s Circle (2015) for the Nth example of this. But that’s just a blight on the device we’re all going to need to accept.
Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier star in Sleuth, based on the Anthony Shaffer play of the same name. And that should be enough to sell this movie to anyone but, for posterity, it’s about a theatre enthusiast who invites his wife’s lover over for the evening to enter into a potentially deadly battle of wits. Bonus: the film was remade in 2007 with Caine playing the role of Olivier (don’t watch the new one first).
Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Unlike Sleuth, the factual low-down on Coherence might actually put you off: Nicholas Brendon and some barely-knowns have a dinner party and something odd starts happening. However, Coherence has layers of intrigue. Without giving too much away, this isn’t a straight up get together: unusual events start to unfold and the cast have to decipher what’s happening, literally. The actors were only given details of specific points they had to include in each scene, leaving them to ad-lib the rest, uncovering the mystery with the audience. This could have resulted in something unusable but instead Coherence is an example of ‘people in a room working something out’ gone right.
Dir. James Ward Byrkit
Moon, the internet’s favourite movie, is an incredibly engaging story of Sam Rockwell’s life on the Moon. This film was never really underground, it even features the voice talents of Kevin Spacey, but it became championed online as this brilliant movie you may have missed to the point of parody. I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, Sam Rockwell is superb, let’s move on.
Dir. Duncan Jones
Clue, infamous murder mystery Clue, is a ‘people in a room working something out’ movie, sure. But it’s the camp, 1985, Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, epitome of ‘people in a room working something out’ movie. Plot: a group of strangers are invited to a mansion, given names relating to Cluedo characters, and a killer is among them. Who is it?!
The Sunset Limited (2011)
This HBO movie, based on a Cormac McCarthy play, stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson as two strangers discussing suicide from the perspectives of a man with faith and a man without. On the surface we see the division between race, class, education, and beliefs, but ultimately it is simply a discussion of life between two men. This could have been cliché and redundant, but a simple glance at the names attached should assuage your doubts.
Dir: Tommy Lee Jones
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Dog Day Afternoon (mildly incompetent nice guy holds up a bank) is arguably one of the best movies ever made. Pacino is at his most likeable, there’s comedy, there’s tension, there’s camaraderie, there’s love, there’s Attica! it’s just a beautiful melting pot of something for everyone whilst avoiding the disgusting tepid nature of compromise.
Dir. Sidney Lumet
The Man From Earth (2007)
The Man From Earth presents one of the more interesting in-depth conversations in film: a man tells his friends, a group of professors from various areas of study, that he is immortal and has been around since the dawn of man. At first this is interpreted as a hypothetical and his task is to convince them, but as the evening unfolds the question as to whether or not he is telling the truth causes tensions to grow. This movie doesn’t fall down any of the potential traps for pretension that it sets up, and whilst I find myself sometimes wondering what it could have been in the hands of Kaufman or Linklater, Bixby’s simple approach navigates the topic elegantly and accessibly.
Dir. Richard Schenkman
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men is another movie from this list which could just as easily be in a top ten of all time, and both are thanks to the incredible talents of Sidney Lumet. ‘Courtroom drama’ might not be the most enticing descriptive coupling, but this timeless reflection on the nature of innocence and the burden of proof provides hefty insight into the hypocrisy of men. This film is as important as it is compelling.
Dir. Sidney Lumet
I saw Cube for the first time about fifteen years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. As a young teen, I obviously hadn’t been exposed to the amount of movies I have been today, and the premise was something surprising I hadn’t seen before. But even today, Cube maintains its position as one of the more accomplished and gripping single location mystery thrillers I’ve seen, and it’s certainly superior to the more recent ilk, such as Fermat’s Room. Synopsis: a group of strangers wake up in a complex system of cube-shaped rooms, some of which are booby-trapped. Together, they possess a set of skills necessary to escape, but will they work it out or turn on each other?
Dir. Vincenzo Natali
Two sets of parents meet with the intention of maturely discussing an altercation their kids had at school, but throughout the course of the evening their behaviour gradually deteriorates into antagonistic and petty childishness. An incredible script and strong performances from an all-star cast (Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly) make Carnage a funny, astute observation of human behaviour.
Dir. Roman Polanski
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club is infamous, spawning parodies and homages in a plethora of TV shows, movies, and comedies. It is the pinnacle of eighties teen films: the perfect recipe of Simple Minds, the Brat Pack, and John Hughes, this movie lives at the nostalgic heart of a generation. Today, endless teen movies take us through the tired, clichéd cafeteria breakdown of social stereotypes, but in 1985 The Breakfast Club gave us The Jock, The Princess, The Brain, The Basket Case and The Criminal in Saturday detention, and it was god-damn perfect.
Dir. John Hughes
My Dinner With Andre (1981)
It’s inconceivable that you haven’t already seen this movie, so I’ll keep it short: two men have dinner. Andre Gregory talks of the twists and turns of his past, regaling Wallace Shawn with wild stories, whilst Wallace questions Andre’s fulfilment and the logistics of his lifestyle.
Dir. Louis Malle
Feel free to send any single location movie recommendations to me @opheliadagger