Here are 10 picks of movies about isolation – ranging from horrors to acclaimed dramas and independent film festival darlings.
When the lockdown started, I wanted to write a piece on the changes that the movie industry will soon undergo. But halfway through the article, I realized that there was already dozens of people who produce content faster than me.
You’re probably wondering why am I starting this article in such way?
Well, the reason is simple. Months passed, and another idea came to my mind. There are many movies about isolation, which really captured the hardships of being closed off from your regular life. These films below all captured the range of emotions related to isolation – the fear, the confusion, the unease.
#1 Relaxer (2018)
So here’s the deal – two guys make a bet that one of them can sit for days without leaving the couch even to take a leak. The silly premise turns into a deeply disturbing look at self-destruction under completely insane circumstances. In Relaxer (2018), director Joel Potrykus observes how people go loco when shut within four walls, and the way the plot keeps surprising the audience with just one room to operate within makes this film even more of a must-watch for indie buffs.
Relaxer (2018) is also another collaboration of director-writer Joel Potrykus and the talented Joshua Burge who stars as the film’s glued-to-the-couch protagonist – you might want to check out their other project called Buzzard (2014) too!
#2 Candiland (2016)
Candiland (2016) is not a Django Unchained (2012) spin-off, although the title might be hinting at that.
The movie follows a couple who decides to create their own happy world within the walls of their apartment, and with their doors sealed, they simply go nuts. But the undertone of Candiland (2016) revolves around the destructive influence people have on each other, and how one twisted mind drags the other one straight into abyss.
Candiland (2016) is not an entirely successful venture I must say, simply because director Rusty Nixon encounters issues with pacing. However he understands the insanity of staying shut-in pretty well, and that’s what keep the film’s momentum going. Who knows, maybe there were people who turned their apartments into their own candilands during lockdowns?
#3 Room (2015)
Lenny Abrahamson’s feature caught most viewers off-guard by the way he approached the real-life case of a boy who was kept in his room for years. But instead of a harrowing thriller (which eventually it ends up being as well) Abrahamson opted for a film which tries to understand the reasoning of the boy’s mother.
The result is a thought-provoking analysis of an overprotective mother whose twisted views become her own reality too. Room (2015) captures the frustration of seeing the same four walls, but it also vivisects a far more sinister problem.
#4 The Lighthouse (2019)
A highly-praised second feature of director Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse (2019) is an exemplary study of how people go batshit crazy while being isolated.
The plot of the movie explores two caretakers who arrive to a remote lighthouse and gradually loose the ability to tell what’s real and what is not. Furthermore, the two gentlemen aren’t fond of each other which quickly causes the tension to take violent forms. Eggers, who loves black magic, demons and complex symbolism, this time explores nautical legends and Greek mythology, all used to fully portray the process of losing sanity.
And when it comes to the way this film refers to the pandemic, being isolated with someone you can’t stand might actually be worse than staying alone.
#5 Bitch (2017)
Earlier this year Amy Adams was announced as a star of Nightbitch, where the actress will portray a woman who mentally turns into a dog. The zany concept has been, however, already explored by Marianna Palka in her movie called Bitch (2017).
The process of becoming an animal took a very vivid turn, with director playing the mentally crushed mother who believes she’s a dog. But the real theme of Bitch (2017) constitutes the relationship of the protagonist with her douchebag-type husband. When his wife loses connection with reality, it’s him who needs to make ends meet on all fronts. Therefore, as we watch Jason Ritter’s character become self-aware of all the wrongs he’s done, Bitch (2017) arrives at an almost cathartic way to look at isolation and being shut in – in this case, in a preposterous, absurd situation.
#6 Buried (2010)
Before he became an established Hollywood name, Ryan Reynolds ventured into numerous independent projects.
One of the more successful ones was Buried (2010) – a movie about isolation taken to an absolute extreme. As the title gravely suggests, the protagonist finds himself buried alive in a coffin. It’s an absolute nightmare, and the dread feels palpable as Reynolds’ character comes undone. At the same time, Buried (2010) presents a slightly different-than-usual angle of being trapped in a confined space.
#7 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
When the lockdowns happened all over the world, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) was the first film that came to my mind as the representation of the dread associated with these events.
In an underground bunker, a man named Howard keeps a few people hostage. The man claims that the Earth is occupied by hostile extraterrestrials and his shelter is the only safe place. The fear spread by Howard is paralyzing, and represents how many of us felt during first weeks of the pandemic – deep in the unknown, confused and terrified of what the future holds. On the pure entertainment level, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) brings in ingenious performances from John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead to deliver a riveting, nightmarish thriller.
#8 The Strangers (2008)
Movies about isolation are often horrors, and for that matter I felt the need to mention the one that’s often mistakenly omitted in various lists.
The Strangers (2008) directed by Brian Bertino fulfills its promise of one dreadful evening where a newlywed couple is terrorized by a masked family. The sense of insecurity is built up with deadly precision in this nasty little thriller, and Bertino doesn’t need violence and splashing blood to really chill your spine. As long as movies about being trapped go, The Strangers (2008) deliver almost too well.
#9 Funny Games (2008)
While The Strangers (2008) delves into a game of cat and mouse, Funny Games (2008) lets the two deranged killers dressed in pristine white golf costumes into the house and then shuts the door.
Michael Haneke directed two versions of the film, and while most critics felt more connected to the original, to me it’s Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet that got really crawled under my skin. Disregarding which version you choose, Funny Games (2008) is the ultimate horror of being trapped without any way out. The film preys on the inevitable bane of the victims, and Haneke’s precise, cold direction makes this film an extremely uncomfortable if absolutely gripping experience.
#10 Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock’ magnificent Rear Window (1954) has probably served as inspiration for most of the movies appearing on this list. The premise is simple – a peeping tom-kind is isolated in his flat and begins to spy on his neighbors. As he becomes more invested in their lives, the man finds out about their dirty secrets. Hitchcock’s suspense relies on the ingenious way that Rear Window (1954) uses perspective – most of the film is watched from the perspective of the photographer who observes the neighbors. But underneath the pure entertainment value, Hitchock’s film also explores how solitude and isolation test people’s moral standards.
Which movies would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments!