Words by Sophie Jackson
The looming prospect of torture, the complete lack of control, the continuous uncertainty and increasing sense of claustrophobia – it’s no wonder moved about captivity and kidnapping fare so well with audiences. We’ve rounded up the top ten.
This list will not examine hostage movies which tend to portray a more unified approach to captivity as opposed to the lonely plight suffered by protagonists in the following films. It won’t look at those movies where characters are confined anywhere larger than a building (Alien, Get Out!, The Descent), nor will it look at those movies in which protagonists find themselves trapped following due to a life-threatening disaster (World Trade Centre, Sanctum).
The below movies are focused on horrific stories of individuals in captivity either from a kidnapping or through otherwise being forced into an enclosed space. Some of the films psychological, some are not-so-subtle gore fests. All are fantastic movies for those who have nightmares about waking up chained to the pipes of some desolate and unrecognizable place…
Horror fan or not, everyone’s heard of the brutal Saw films – one of the highest grossing franchises of all time, it should be added. No matter how much the later installments may raise the eyebrows of disapproving film critics, there’s no denying that the first Saw movie was original, artistically inspiring and an overall thrilling piece of filmmaking. The sordid bathroom in which Jigsaw traps his victims will forever be entrenched as a vision of horrifying captivity. Strangers to each other, chained to bathroom pipes and with a dead body between them – two men must search for clues and make difficult decisions if they are to understand why they have been kidnapped and how, if possible, they can get out of this place alive.
A dystopian classic; the 1997 cult film Cube at first seems to tell a simple story, but is in fact rich with metaphorical subtext. Seven strangers awake in cube shaped rooms with no memory of how they got there and no idea of how to get out. It soon becomes apparent that overcoming certain challenges, while avoiding lethal booby traps, allows for entry into a new cubed room. Continually squabbling over leadership and breeding mistrust, the strangers make their way through the seemingly endless maze of cube rooms while gradually learning more about each other’s past. Cube is a masterful horror – both psychological and gory – and a film that will entice those who enjoy looking for underlying metaphors.
An odd premise that is all the more intriguing for it; Poker Night is an often overlooked abduction horror from 2014. Inspired by 90s serial killer flicks, Poker Night sees a young detective transferred to quiet Indiana where he joins the older local detectives in regular poker nights. During these games, each detective shares with him personal experience and general wisdom through table talk. The information imparted to him transpires to be crucial to his survival when he is kidnapped by a serial killer on his way home from one of the poker games. It’s not the first time ‘table talk’ has been used as a narrative device in movies, (nor is it the first time Beau Mirchoff has portrayed a poker player, but Poker Night makes a great story out of it.
The protagonist in After.Life is definitely trapped – but perhaps not in the way she thinks. After a terrible car crash, the young woman of our story wakes up under the care of an undertaker who claims she died in the crash and that he is the only person who can communicate with her. Convinced she has been kidnapped and now held captive, the woman attempts to escape which proves to be harder than she thought. Viewers can’t be quite so sure that protagonist isn’t in fact a ghost, as truth becomes increasingly obscured. Twists, turns and doubts makes this a suspenseful psychological horror-thriller based on a clever idea.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Anyone who had seen the original Cloverfield might have expected a similar found-footage style horror from the sequel. 10 Cloverfield Lane, although also stress-inducing and nail-biting, was a different movie experience altogether. After a serious car crash, a young woman wakes up strapped to the wall in a basement she’s never seen before. Her broken bones have been tended to, a medical drip has fed her fluids – but the unfamiliar setting in which she finds herself is far from comforting. When she meets her captor, she is asked to accept a horrifying and totally unbelievable reality – the earth’s surface is now fatally toxic from radiation, presumably from nuclear war, and those survivors who managed to get themselves in protected bunkers must subsequently remain underground for the next few years.
In the role that won Kathy Bates an Oscar, a mentally unstable nurse traps her favourite author in her home after rescuing him from a car crash. The movie has everything that you would expect from a film based on a Stephen King story – dark woods, dangerous weather, psychological issues and strange mysteries. Though thankful at first for his rescue, author Paul Sheldon grows suspicious when the former nurse, portrayed by Bates, refuses to take him to the hospital. When her at-first dismissive behaviour turns violent, he realizes there is serious cause for concern…
Perhaps a little dated, and probably better described as a thriller, the 2002 film Panic Room is nonetheless worth your time.. As to be expected from David Fincher, the film is a dark cat-and-mouse thriller. A newly divorced women, upon discovering intruders in her luxury New York apartment, takes her young daughter into their high security panic room to wait for help…except the emergency phone line hasn’t been hooked up and cell phones don’t work inside the panic room. What’s more – it soon becomes apparent that what the intruders want is located in the panic room itself, and they’re not going to leave until they get it.
As with every globally successful film arising from anywhere other than America – Hollywood had to remake Oldboy; the critically acclaimed South Korean drama that Tarantino calls one of his all-time favourite movies. If you want to experience one of the most astounding pieces of cinematic work in all of history, then watch the original Oldboy. Otherwise settle for the pale imitation. But Oldboy didn’t earn international recognition just from being a masterfully directed and beautifully scripted movie. The synopsis alone is enticing, but actually watching the mystery unravel in front of your eyes is unbearably hair-raising.
Kidnapped one night by unknown assailants, our protagonist is held captive in a hotel-like room for fifteen years for no apparent reason. When suddenly released, our protagonist wakes to find he is invited to track down his abductors and discover the reason for his imprisonment – an invitation he eagerly accepts.
This gory and insanely tense remake of Rec follows a couple of documentary makers as they interview and film the work of a city fire fighting team when a call comes through that there’s a sick woman in need of help in a nearby apartment block. Though neither kidnapped nor held captive, the fire fighting team and documentary makers face one of the most terrifying types of confinement ever depicted on screen. Coupled with fantastic acting and excellent execution of the found-footage style narration, Quarantine is sure to thrill those who are terrified of both captivity and monsters.
Working at a 911 call centre has got to be one of the most stressful jobs ever, and I’m not basing that assumption solely on the terrifying suspense in The Call. Though this underrated gem of a thriller is perhaps not one of the first movies that come to mind on the theme of captivity, it is nonetheless a great example of confinement used as a horror device. A woman working as a 911 operator receives a call from a young girl who has been kidnapped and is trapped inside the boot of her kidnapper’s moving car. A vast part of the movie depicts the ordeal of being trapped in a car boot from the perspective of the kidnapped, and does a great job of depicting the frustrating sense of helplessness felt by the girl and the operator.
What might first appear like a rather unoriginal story about a sadistic loner kidnapping a pretty young woman soon turns into a clever abduction flick with a twist. Pet may not terrify you – but it will definitely surprise you. As it turns out, the abducted women and subject of the captor’s obsession turns out to be a lot more than what the captor bargained for. In this film, it is not the kidnapper exerting psychological manipulation – it is the kidnapped.
From Edgar Allen Poe’s The Burial to Emma Donoghue’s Room, themes of captivity have always made for disturbing literary stories. These themes translate equally well on screen – typically in horror movies, where the helplessness, frustration, paranoia and uncertainty of captivity are central to the fear factor. No matter how unlikely the scenario that we get kidnapped or trapped – most humans tend to agree that the captivity by a sadist is a genuinely blood-curdling prospect.