Stream With a Theme

Stream With a Theme: The Best Single Room Thrillers

With both The Woman in the Window and Oxygen now on Netflix, we recommend further viewing in this sweaty sub-genre...

This week, both The Woman in the Window – starring Amy Adams as a woman confined to her apartment with acrophobia – and Oxygen – the latest film from schlockmeister Alexander Aja about a woman trapped in a cryogenic chamber – arrive on Netflix, two pictures pitting their protagonists against very small spaces and a growing sense of claustrophobia. To mark the occasion, we've looked back at some of the best “single room thrillers” to grace our screens…

 

Rear Window (1954)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

One of the most influential films of all time, and also one of the best, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window basically set the template for every movie set in a confined space thereafter. The stroke of genius here – though, in fact, there are many, from the casting of Grace Kelly to the impeccable set design – was in the decision to keep the camera inside the apartment of our obsessive voyeur, played here by an increasingly flustered James Stewart, holed up after breaking his leg and convinced his neighbour has been murdered. It's a masterclass in amplifying tension, but also in giving the audience precisely what they want in the most unexpected way.

 

Phone Booth (2002)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Okay, it's not a room, exactly, but in many ways it's worse! The great trash director Joel Schumacher helmed this unashamedly pulpy but relentlessly entertaining thriller about a man (played by Colin Farrell) who steps into a phone booth to answer a call and is forced to stay there by a crazed sniper – grizzled voice provided by Kiefer Sutherland – who has a rifle pointed right at him. Phone Booth was mocked by the majority of critics upon its release, but the harsh reception seemed to ignore the fact that this movie was never intended as high art, but as a movie about a man trapped in a phone booth. 81 minutes well spent.

 

Buried (2010)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

It is hard to think of the modern “single room thriller” without thinking about Buried, a film that gets right to the heart of this sub-genre's inherent appeal by tackling the most commonly feared claustrophobic scenario of all: being buried alive. Ryan Reynolds plays an American contractor in Iraq, who wakes up inside a coffin armed only with a lighter and a cell phone. It's a brilliantly tense and twisty ride that doubles as a thinly-veiled parable about American-Iraqi relations at the time, while also exposing Reynolds as an actor capable of more range than most of us had given him credit for.

Locke (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

How is that Tom Hardy, alone in his car and talking on his mobile phone about something as boring as concrete, make for such a gripping ride? Locke takes place entirely in real time, at night, as Hardy comes to realise with each passing mile that his world is about to crumble. His destination, en route from Birmingham, is Croydon – perhaps the the least inherently cinematic of all English destinations. On the other end of the phone, his wife, but also another woman he once spent the night with, not to mention a reveal that will come to spell personal and financial ruin. Locke is proof that, done right, a good movie can be about anything. Even concrete.

 

The Guilty (2018)

Where to watch it: Prime Video

This is a slight cheat, because it actually takes place in two adjacent rooms, but it's too good to not include here. Set in real time, The Guilty finds a disgraced police officer manning an emergency phone service when a woman calls claiming to have been kidnapped. The film is basically made up of a series of tense, enigmatic conversations, primed to leave you giddy and breathless – though the best thing here is that nothing is ever explicitly shown, only suggested. First-time director Gustav Möller understands that what we imagine is often more powerful than what we can actually see, and The Guilty pushes that notion to its very breaking point. The result is dizzyingly inventive and clever, perhaps the best single room thriller since Rear Window.

The Woman in the Window and Oxygen are now streaming on Netflix.

Other Features

Best Films to Watch in London and Stream This Week

With UK cinemas back in business, we highlight the best of what's new, from an intoxicating movie musical to Pixar's latest gem

Why I Changed My Mind About… The Royal Tenenbaums

Next in our series about films our writers have reconsidered, Emily Maskell on how grief changed her view of Wes Anderson's comedy

20 Unmissable Films Still to Come in 2021, Ranked by How Excited You Should Be

Beatles! Broadway! Beautiful boys! With seven months of the year still to go, Ella Kemp weighs up the biggest UK cinema releases...

Bitches of the Badlands: The Myth of the American West Through the Female Lens

With Nomadland and First Cow now in UK cinemas, Lilia Pavin-Franks explores how Chloé Zhao and Kelly Reichardt have rewritten the rules of Hollywood's most fabled genre

Reviews

In the Heights review – intoxicating musical is the film of the summer

Jon M. Chu's screen adaptation of the acclaimed Lin-Manuel Miranda musical is a relentlessly joyous explosion of life and colour

One in a Thousand review – a well-crafted tale of young queer love

Writer-director Clarisa Navas helms an impressive and highly personal story of romance set in a poor neighbourhood in Argentina

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard review – a heinous and incomprehensible sequel

Ryan Reynolds's self-aware schtick wears dangerously thin in an ugly follow-up that seems to hate its own cast and audience

Fargo review – a yahsterpiece of the highest order

Is the Coens' chilly neo-noir about a simple kidnapping plot gone very wrong still as inspired as it was back in 1996? You betcha!