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Cinematic Claustrophobia

While mainstream cinema in the modern age might involve huge set pieces and giant robots hitting each other, the experiment of claustrophobic cinema has repeatedly yielded efficient and effective movies. The technique works by putting too many people in a limited space, and is more often than not a recipe for ruin, as manners crumble and conflict arises.

This is not to be confused with claustrophobia in film, be it Bruce Willis crawling through the Nakatomi Towers’ ventilation system, or cave-divers in ‘The Descent’. These instances where individuals are put into a confined space are often still classed as claustrophobic filmmaking, but in the traditional sense, cinematic claustrophobia is more due to a singular location.

One of the greatest exponents of this is ‘12 Angry Men’, Sidney Lumet’s courtroom drama, 99% of which takes place inside a jury room, where each of the respective jurors’ prejudices and preconceptions are laid bare. Henry Fonda plays the one impartial voice, slowly turning opinion towards that of justice and against hastily condemning a potentially innocent man. The lack of space around the table and the small adjoining washroom force the jury (all male) into an unusually tight surrounding, with a selection of classes and personalities on show. In addition, until the final scene, no names are used for any of the jury or the defendant or witnesses.

A further implementer of this technique was Alfred Hitchcock, whose famous work ‘Rear Window’ places Jimmy Stewart in his flat with a broken leg, naturally unable to leave, with only spying on his neighbours as exposure to the outside world. There is also ‘Rope’, which wholly takes place at a dinner party in the aftermath of a murder committed by the hosts, with the body hidden underneath the buffet table.

But a recent example, ‘Buried’, directed by Rodrigo Cortes, combines both definitions of movie claustrophobia. Its entire hour and a half running time takes place in one location, that of Paul Conroy’s coffin. In a ridiculously tense showcase of the brilliance of claustrophobic cinema, with only a lighter, a mobile phone, a slowly decreasing level of oxygen and a slowly increasing influx of sand, Ryan Reynolds’

David Bruce

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