x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

'Buried' carries on the legacy of one-room film locations

Making a one-location film exciting and tense is one of the hardest feats in cinema, but despite this, these five excellent films have taken place on a single set.

Buried is the ultimate in one-location films. The whole film takes place in a coffin. An American contractor in Iraq, played by Ryan Reynolds, is buried alive with only a mobile phone for company. When his kidnapper calls demanding a US$5 million (Dh18m) ransom, the contractor has the time left on his mobile phone battery to organise the money for a rescue mission. The Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés does a remarkable job of keeping the tension high, despite Reynolds being trapped underground throughout the film and his only interactions with other characters being through his mobile phone. The ability to use several locations is usually seen as one of the benefits that cinema has over theatre. Making a one-location film exciting and tense is one of the hardest feats in cinema, and despite this, some of the greatest films ever made have taken place on a single set.

Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock was the master of the one-location film. He made four of them: Lifeboat, Rope, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. In Rear Window, all of the action takes place in a single apartment room with a view on the back windows of neighbouring apartments. If shooting a film where 99 per cent of the action is from a single viewpoint wasn't hard enough already, Hitchcock gave himself another barrier by making the main character an invalid, stuck in a wheelchair after breaking his leg. Everything from the performance of James Stewart to the kiss with Grace Kelly is perfect in this taut thriller.


Lars Von Trier refuses to get on a plane; a fact that would seem like an insurmountable problem when the Danish director wanted to make a film located in the United States. But having created a career out of making a mockery of obstacles, the director came up with the ingenious idea of simply drawing a chalk outline of the locations on a soundstage. If you closed your eyes and listened to just the dialogue, the action and the story takes place over several locations, but on-screen everything takes place on the same pared-down set, with Nicole Kidman starring as Grace, a woman hiding from mobsters in a small American town. Genius.

The Breakfast Club

Set entirely in a high school, John Hughes's classic 1985 movie features five very different high school students: an athlete, a brainiac, a basket case, a princess and a criminal - all given Saturday detention. The only other people in the building are the janitor and the teacher. Over the course of the day, the teenagers discover that they are not so different after all. The film starred Emilio Estevez and Molly Ringwald.

Russian Ark

This is a film that seems to take place over centuries, from locations across the globe. The truth is, all the action takes place in the Russian State Hermitage museum. The main character, a 19th-century French aristocrat, famous for his memoirs about life in Russia, walks through each room and meets historical figures from the past 200 years, the paintings providing context and location. It's almost a cheat to have such a fantastic and vast location as the single setting, but it's hard to criticise Aleksandr Sokurov's movie. Also, like Hitchcock's Rope, the whole film is shot to look like one long single take. Mesmerising.

12 Angry Men

Starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men has a simple premise: jury members have retired to form their verdict in a murder trial. Needing a unanimous verdict to condemn the man, there is one man (Fonda) who remains unconvinced of the guilt of the defendant. He starts dissecting every aspect of the case, and the dialogue is stunning as he convinces the other jurors of his argument, in what is at times both a celebration and an indictment of the jury system. The 1957 film got Oscar nods for Best Picture and Best Director.


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