Perhaps the single greatest challenge for both actors and directors, aside from financing a film without studio interference, is to make an interesting film out of one single setting; one confined space or room. The story, the performances, the cinematography need to to both keep the viewers in that room while expanding its scope to something much larger and gripping. It's the ultimate irony: spending 90 minutes sitting in a small room watching a movie that takes place in a small room. Either you tap the viewer's imagination and psyche, or you come off as a a pr*ck who waste people's time and money.
Here's my pick of 5 films that pulled it off majestically.
ONE MOVIE, ONE ROOM
5- EXAM (2009)
Stuart Hazeldine's debut feature centers on a group of candidates applying for a rare high-level position in a world we learn to have been devastated by an outbreak. For these candidates, getting the job is do or die, which is exacerbated by the fact that none of them, left to their own devise in the room, know what the exam actually is. A beautifully filmed low-budgeter that looks -and is- way better than it would've if studio suits had been involved.
4- TAPE (2001)
What Happened to Rinchard Linklater? He used to make such compelling movies on no money. Like this one (and of course Dazed and Confused, one of my all-time favorites). The no-budget, seedy motel setting allows for something unusual and unexpected: proving once and for all that Uma Thurman is an actual, bona fide good actress. Perhpas helped by the fact she was flanked by two very strong (and often underrated) actors themselves, Ex-Mr. Thurman Ethan Hawk and his Dead Poets classmate Robert Sean "Wilson" Leonard, who chew on their many confrontations with great gusto.
3- 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Sidney Lumet's thriller set the tone and paved the way for small films in small confinements to be regarded in a big way. An extroardinary example of a film where tension comes from personality conflict, dialogue and body language, not action. Not to mention one of Henry Fonda's most subtle and compelling performances this side of Once Upon a Time in the West.
(yes, it's the entire movie, you're welcome!)
2- RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Granted some of the scenes, compared to the other entries in this list, do take place outside the one room (though all of them are flashbacks) but you have to admit the priceless dialogues, instant-classic characters and killer soundtrack blow the walls right off the confined little warehouse that shelters the "color" crew. And if anything if gave birth to the "Tarantinesque" filmmaking style.
Has any other director in history seen his name so quickly become an adjective?
1- Rope (1948)
Some will argue I should've chosen Hitch's other single-setting masterpiece, Rear Window, but this granddaddy of all procedurals truly shines for it's tour-de-force cinematography of being filmed in only 10 cuts. Meaning for each take actors had to stay focused for up to 10 minutes without fail or else the entire 10-minute take had to be redone from scratch. The fact that the grand master made an edge-o'- your-seat thriller ouf of that is itself a commendable feat worth the watch. Oh, and it's based on a real-life murder case, just to sweeten the pot.