In one of those weird movie industry cycles, we’re suddenly inundated with films about individuals or groups trapped somewhere: 127 Hours is in theaters, and Buried and Devil just came out on home video.
Nor is the trend slowing down–there’s at least one movie about the Chilean miners on the way, and Ang Lee is directing an adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, about a man in a boat with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra, and a tiger. (I haven’t read the novel, but I’m assuming it’s some sort of bachelor party mini-cruise?)
You can argue that such films represent deep societal themes of our time: People these days feel more isolated, despite (or because of) online social networking. (And what is The Social Network but a film about a really smart guy trapped by his lack of social empathy?) Or that we feel closed in on by larger, foreboding forces, such as the economy, various global crises, and Justin Bieber.
Or you can just chalk it up to the fact that films shot with just one main actor (like 127 Hours and Buried), or one location (like Devil or Frozen) are cheaper to make. Or that such films come with a built-in hook for spreading buzz: “It’s that movie where someone’s pinned by a rock/buried alive/stuck in an elevator/trapped on a ski lift!”
Let’s look at some of the newer “Trapped” movies in theaters and available from redbox, and then get pinned down on memory lane with some of the classics of the genre.
Who’s Trapped: James Franco
Where is He Trapped?: In a crevice in a Utah national park
How is He Trapped?: By a giant boulder pinning his right arm
What’s the Problem?: Running out of water, too arrogantly self-sufficient to tell anyone where he was going
How Does He React?: Calmly, methodically inventorying his supplies and tools, addressing the problem
Lesson Learned: Always leave a note. Or bring a bone saw.
In the Redbox Kiosks
Who’s Trapped: Ryan Reynolds
Where is He Trapped?: In a coffin buried somewhere in Iraq
How is He Trapped?: By Iraqi kidnappers demanding ransom
What’s the Problem?: Running out of air and cell-phone battery, coffin has no mini-gym
How Does He React?: Panic, scream, panic some more, yell at phone operators
Lesson Learned: Your rock-hard six-pack abs won’t protect you from becoming part of a metaphor about American geo-political nation-building policies.
Who’s Trapped: Five unknown actors
Where Are They Trapped?: In a Philadelphia office building’s elevator
How Are They Trapped?: By writer-producer M. Night Shaylaman’s love of old Twilight Zone episodes
What’s the Problem?: One of them is Satan!
How Do They React?: First by punching the buttons harder and faster; then comes suspicion, paranoia, sharing meaningful life stories
Lesson Learned: Take the stairs
Who’s Trapped: Three young skiers: A guy, his girlfriend, and his now-third-wheel pal (played, ironically, by “Iceman” from the X-Men movies).
Where Are They Trapped?: On a New England ski lift during an overnight snow storm
How Are They Trapped?: Lift-operator negligence, weekend-only resort hours, convoluted plot contrivance
What’s the Problem?: The slopes won’t re-open for days, it’s cold, it’s too far down to jump without breaking your legs (learned that one the hard way), and… wolves!
How Do They React?: Whimpering, crying, then of course sharing life stories.
Lesson Learned: Never hurts to pack some rope. Or a parachute. Or wolf repellent.
Who’s Trapped: A babysitter
Where is She Trapped?: In a creepy old house in the ’80s
How is She Trapped?: Needs the cash
What’s the Problem?: There’s no baby, just a cult of murderous Satan-worshippers
How Does She React: Put on Walkman, dance to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.” Later, running, screaming.
Lesson Learned: In the ’80s pretty much anyone who looked kinda odd was probably a murderous Satan worshipper
Who’s Trapped: Greg Evigan’s daughter and the kid from Charlie St. Cloud
Where Are They Trapped?: In their old Louisiana house
How Are They Trapped?: Locked in by her murderous step brother Garret Dillahunt (shakes fist at heavens: “Dillahunt!!!!”)
What’s the Problem?: Step brother set a crazy, hungry TIGER loose in the house!
How Does She React: Fight back against the monkey fighting tiger in her Monday to Friday house!
Lesson Learned: Romantic poetry by William Blake is all fine and dandy ’til it tries to eat you.
Alive — Lessons Learned: When flying over the Andes, it never hurts to pack a lunch. Even if it’s your rugby teammate.
Snakes on a Plane — Lessons Learned: Mr. Samuel L. Jackson would like to respectfully request that all legless lizards who have had carnal relations with their maternal parent please be removed from the aircraft as expediently as possible.
Open Water — Lessons Learned: When scuba diving in the Caribbean, always use the buddy system in case you’re accidentally left behind in the middle of the ocean. Leaves more for the sharks to nom nom nom.
Alien – Lessons Learned: There’s a deadly extra terrestrial loose on our spacecraft? Quick, Sigourney, strip down to your underwear.
Cast Away – Lessons Learned: Sure, a volleyball makes a great pal if you’re stranded on a deserted island, but it won’t have your back when the pirates show up. (There were pirates, right? It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it… No? Well, there should have been. My version is better…)
Night of the Living Dead / Dawn of the Dead — Lessons Learned: Where would you rather sit out the zombie apocalypse? A deserted farm house or a shopping mall? What do you mean, you’d rather just not have a zombie apocalypse? Come on, it’ll be fun!
Quarantine / [REC] — Lessons Learned: Okay then, zombie hata, how about being stuck in an apartment building where everyone is infected with a zombifying rage virus? Happy now?
Phone Booth — Lessons Learned: Colin Farrell manages to get trapped by a sniper in the Last Phone Booth in the Eastern United States, and most improbably it still works. Meanwhile, Clark Kent waits impatiently outside.
Cube – Lessons Learned: Anyone can rent an inflatable bouncy castle for their next backyard party. Go them one better by hiring out a giant, secret government cube hive full of horrific death traps! (From the director of Splice!)