#TBThursday Review: ‘ROOM’ and Other Tight-Spaced Thrillers


Screen shot 2015-10-29 at 9.21.10 AMPreston Barta // Editor

I think it’s safe to say few feelings create more anxiety than being trapped in a small space, unable to move or escape. Even if you don’t consider yourself claustrophobic, when you’re stuck in a situation such as this, we can all relate to that inner panic that floods in.

When movies create this feeling… It’s a testament to the power cinema when filmmakers can virtually drop us into a situation where we can feel this way and almost feel the walls closing in.

This week sees the release of ROOM, a film that expertly exudes this discomfort with its story of a mother (Brie Larson) and son (Jacob Tremblay) being held captive in a small garden shed. And with its release, Fresh Fiction looked back at other films that challenged our limitations in tight spaces. So hold your breath and read on.

buried1BURIED (2010)

Do you remember that scene in KILL BILL: VOL. 2 where Uma Thurman was buried alive and she had to find a way out quickly before oxygen was gone? Well, it was easier for Thurman to get out in Quentin Tarantino’s world, but for Ryan Reynolds in BURIED, the situation rang more true.

BURIED is about as claustrophobic as it gets, especially when the entire film is shown from Reynolds’ character point of view inside the coffin. Reynolds plays an American contractor who has been buried alive in the Iraqi desert with limited resources (a lighter and a cell phone). As he struggles to make sense of his situation, we squirm in our seats, hoping he’ll push through and get out. It’s baffling but entertaining nonetheless.

To film a movie like this, it had to have been one of the most difficult things. It relies almost entirely on the power of its acting and writing. And, yes, while it may be challenging to sit through, the result is cinematic terror at its peak.
– Preston Barta

crawl2CRAWL OR DIE (2014)

In the age of the Internet, one of the upsides is that we, as a culture, are privy to wide access when it comes to new forms of entertainment. For film junkies like myself, it’s also allowed for independent directors/producers to have a better grapevine than was ever allowed. Once it builds in reception, it can gain momentum in social media. This is the case with CRAWL OR DIE, a movie where its protagonist and dreadful atmosphere propels it above the normal-indie horror fray. (Disclaimer: I know it came out last year, so it’s not really a throwback, but this is a good time to talk about it. So… shush.)

It’s the distant future, and a group of soldiers are to escort the only living, fertile woman to Earth 2. Once they land and are transporting the package, they are attacked by an alien. After getting cornered, their only way out is to crawl through a cylindrical duct. However, most of the team is killed before even getting into the tunnel, so it’s up to Tank (Nicole Alonso) to escort Package (Torey Byrne) to safety.

Written, directed, shot, and edited by Oklahoma Ward, the movie is extremely low-budget, so the trick is to make use of what you’ve got. The camerawork can be jarring at first, but it’s necessary for when they are in the tunnels; let’s face it, it could get boring just staring at someone move forward in a long take.
Also, in most horror movies, incidents get bigger and direr as the plot moves forward. The opposite can be said for CRAWL OR DIE. As the alien monster pursues them, their path gets more narrow. The tension builds through its claustrophobia, and Tank proves to be one of the most badass women in horror this decade. It’s slowly paced, but well worth it if you stick with it.
– Jared McMillan

the-descent1THE DESCENT (2005)

Not only is this a prime example of a tight-spaced movie but it’s also a great horror flick to pop in over the Halloween weekend.

THE DESCENT takes place in an “unmapped” cave system in the Appalachian Mountains. Uncharted territories can never be a good sign, as proven when six spelunkers (all of whom are women) arrive and discover they are not alone.

Fear of tight spaces, darkness and monsters– On a realistic and supernatural level, THE DESCENT is about as scary as it gets. It’s both gory and horrifying deathtrap, proving that sometimes story truly trumps premise.
– P.B.

Devil-2010-600x300DEVIL (2010)

Truthfully, it has been a minute since M. Night Shyamalan has made something worthwhile before he created the story for DEVIL (and most recently THE VISIT). The concept is simple, relatable and sort-of ripped off from the opening to SPEED– you know, minus all the demonic stuff.

The film shows a group of strangers trapped in an elevator, and it just so happens to be that one of them is the Devil himself, aka Mr. Scratch.

This is an incredibly effective thriller directed by John Erick Dowdle (who made the underrated AS ABOVE, SO BELOW) makes good use of the eerie premise. Matched with a solid cast – including indie darling Chris Messina, Logan Marshall Green and Geoffrey Arend – DEVIL will stay with you long after you get off of the elevator.
– Cole Clay


Director Julian Schnabel’s breathtaking film is not only emotionally moving but will leave you horrified. Taking place inside the mind of Jean-Dominic Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), a man of the arts who had the world on a string. But after suffering a stroke, he’s plagued with “locked-in syndrome,” only to communicate and write by blinking.

This film is a nightmare to walk a mile within, but Schnabel and lead actor Amalric create a film that’s riddled in beauty and focuses on the simple joys that make life worth living.
– C.C.

ROOM is now playing in limited release, but rolls out wider this weekend.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.