Benjamin Cox's Top 20 Films About Self-Isolating
What's This All About Then?
Without question, these are daunting and challenging times. As the Corona virus continues to spread across the globe like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many people find themselves under an enforced lockdown in order to try and limit the disease. Personally, this isn't that much of a chore as I currently live alone and have a backlog of films to write about longer than the queue at your nearest supermarket. But for others, the stresses and strains of life stuck indoors with little else to do quickly become self-evident. This is especially true if you have children unable to go to school (because they have closed as well), a partner who is lucky enough to be able to work from home or someone else unable to work because their place of work has closed as well as yours. Of course, if you're on a cruise ship then you've only got the view to enjoy.
So I thought I would compile a list of films that offer an insight into self-isolation and maybe how best to cope with it. The following films are in no particular order and cover a wide variety of genres from zombie horror to sci-fi classics to dramatic thrillers. Each film deals with themes of loneliness or isolation from others (which we should all be doing right now) and are worth checking out if you can. So, shall we begin with..?
Number 20: Silent Running (1972)
Douglas Trumbull's ecological sci-fi drama has proved to be hugely influential, taking its cues from the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey to depict Bruce Dern's lonely astronaut (above) attempting to preserve the last living remnants of Earth's natural resources alongside three diminutive robots. Considering the film was Trumbull's debut as a director (he was more used to producing special effects from films like the original Star Trek film and Blade Runner), the film is regarded as a milestone of environmental awareness and remains a cult hit among audiences.
Number 19: Panic Room (2002)
A tense and gripping stand-off ensues when recently divorced Jodie Foster and her diabetic daughter (a young Kristen Stewart) are moving into their new apartment in New York, only to be hit by a group of violent thieves who break in. Forced to retreat into the apartment's safe room, Foster and Stewart find themselves trapped together while the baddies wait for them outside. Directed by the multiple award-winning David Fincher, the film was a critical and commercial success that feels like a curious blend of Rear Window and Home Alone - albeit one directed by Fincher.
Number 18: Passengers (2016)
Back into space for this one which sees Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt (above) prematurely awakened from suspended animation on board a spaceship light years from their destination. Taking a more romanticised look at the perils of isolation, the film received criticism from some that the overall premise was a bit creepy. However, the film gives plenty for its two stars to do and they generate some legitimate chemistry which led to box office success. It looks amazing and even has Michael Sheen as an android bartender with more than a hint toward The Shining. Speaking of which...
Number 17: The Shining (1980)
If you're going to talk about the perils of isolation then you simply cannot ignore or forget Stanley Kubrick's chilling adaptation of Stephen King's troubling novel about psychics, psychologically unstable caretakers and a haunted hotel. Nobody can play crazy quite like Jack Nicholson and he delivers a haunting performance as a man driven over into madness by spending winter in the remote Overlook Hotel, putting poor Shelley Duvall and young Danny Lloyd in danger. And you think you've got problems if your home broadband goes down...
Number 16: Buried (2010)
If you've been staring at the same four walls for some time now, spare a thought for poor Ryan Reynolds (above) who plays an American truck driver attacked and buried alive in a wooden coffin somewhere in the Iraqi desert. With only a handful of items on him and time running short, he has to somehow escape his wooden prison. Considering that Reynolds was actually filmed in a wooden coffin for most of the movie, it's no surprise to learn that he developed claustrophobia from the experience. At times a brutal and harrowing watch, Buried is a hidden gem of a film that's well worth tracking down and digging up - as it were.
Number 15: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Few films depict the tedium and repetitive nature of being stuck in one place quite as well as this surprising sequel to giant monster movie Cloverfield. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the survivor of a road accident who is nursed back to health by John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr, who insist that the world outside their bunker has been ravaged by some tremendous evil. Ditching the 'found footage' gimmick of the first film, this was a tense and suspenseful sequel that made the most of its low budget and really delivered some powerful shocks to unsuspecting audiences.
Number 14: Cube (1997)
Of course, if you trapped in one location, it might sometimes be safer to stay where you are than try to venture beyond. Cube is a curious independent film that is a glimpse into a nightmarish world of interconnecting square rooms and the unfortunate group of strangers trying not to fall victim to the numerous deadly traps within. Made for about the same cost as an emergency shop, the film found enough of an audience to become a cult smash and was even followed by a sequel and prequel (and a possible reboot if rumours are to be believed). With more than a touch of The Twilight Zone about it, this is one film worth watching. And when you do, try not to spoil it for others.
Number 13: The Road (2009)
Based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, this post-apocalyptic drama might not feature folks hunkered down in their homes but does feature Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee struggling to survive by themselves in a world ravaged by an unseen cataclysm. The film is almost completely devoid of hope and with a faded colour palette, it does a great job of depicting a world on its very last legs. Both actors are utterly compelling and in spite of the bleak atmosphere, it's hard to ignore once you have seen it. But if you're feeling down then probably best to skip this one.
Number 12: I Am Legend (2007)
This third version of the 1954 sci-fi novel of the same name by Richard Matheson stars Will Smith (above) as possibly the last living boy in a otherwise deserted New York alongside his loyal dog as his sole companion. I Am Legend is much more action oriented than its predecessors The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man and while it's far from perfect, the film does a fine job of showing how quickly humanity could be forgotten once nature turns her hand against us. It also reminds us how much better practical effects are compared to bad CG.
Number 11: The Lighthouse (2019)
Another film that blends elements of horror and psychological drama, this monochromatic and off-beat movie features Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers stranded on their remote island during a storm and slowly lose their minds - something many of us may well experience over the forthcoming months ahead. The film was a hit with critics with both actor's performances being praised and the film's old-fashioned aesthetic and atmosphere. The film is only the second feature film by co-writer Robert Eggers and acts as a possible indicator for his future career.
Number 10: Misery (1990)
Another Stephen King adaptation, Misery is the tale of successful writer James Caan who is rescued by his number one fan Kathy Bates who doesn't take the death of her favourite character well, to put it mildly. Unbelievably, this is the only King adaptation to ever win an Oscar - a Best Actress nod for Bates' chilling portrayal of the obsessive psychopath with a hammer fixation (above). Caan's desperation to escape his seemingly normal surroundings is something anyone stuck in home can sympathise with but whatever you do, please don't secure the children to their beds with rope and straps.
Number 9: Moon (2009)
Duncan Jones' incredible debut feature, Moon sees Sam Rockwell as another astronaut alone in space, this time stationed on the far side of the moon who experiences a personal crisis as his three-year mission is coming to an end. Owing more than a debt of gratitude to the likes of Solaris, the film was widely praised for its realistic portrayal of life in space as well as Rockwell's performance. What was even more impressive is the film's microscopic budget and the fact that several scientific ideas in the film were being already developed by NASA.
Number 8: Cast Away (2000)
If you're thinking that you'd rather be stranded on a desert island during these troubled times, this is the film to suggest that might not be as much fun as you might think. Tom Hanks acts his socks off alone on a isolated Pacific atoll with only a bloodied volleyball for company after the Fed Ex transport plane he's travelling on goes down. The film might be a little far fetched but it demonstrates how much of a toll isolation can take, both physically and mentally but if you're living in your own home with your own luxuries and comforts, it might be as taxing as it appears here.
Number 7: The Martian (2015)
Ridley Scott's adaptation of the novel of the same name by Andy Weir was seen as a long awaited return to form for the director after a few misfires. Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars after he is lost during a mission and his seemingly impossible attempts to survive in order to be rescued. The film is the most successful of Scott's long and prestigious career and scooped up gongs and award nominations like shoppers bulk-buying loo roll. It was praised for Damon's performance, visual effects, Scott's direction and scientific accuracy with renowned British physicist Brian Cox described The Martian as "the best advert for a career in engineering I've ever seen".
Number 6: Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
There are countless films to depict the fall of society via a zombie apocalypse but none of them manage to combine genuinely brilliant funny comedy, a wicked soundtrack and a syrupy romance quite as well as this sublime film. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play best friends who slowly realise that the world has literally gone to hell overnight and it's up to them to try and survive the end of the world... at their local pub. Just because it's a comedy doesn't mean that the film skips on the bloody horror of traditional zombie films and it is actually a loving tribute to the works of genre king George A. Romero. Shaun Of The Dead is also the best of the so-called Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy alongside Hot Fuzz and The World's End while the scenes of empty, abandoned streets never stop being slightly chilling.
Number 5: The Thing (1982)
arFew films create such a sense of powerful isolation as well as The Thing which sees Kurt Russell lead a group of scientists into a battle of wits against a hungry, shape-shifting alien on a remote Antarctic research station. The film is an extraordinary demonstration of practical special effects as the creature takes a variety of hellish forms and is a genuinely disturbing creation by Rob Bottin and his special effects team. The film is now recognised as one of the best sci-fi horror films of all time as well as a powerful depiction of a small group coming apart through distrust and paranoia.
Number 4: Into The Wild (2007)
Incredibly based on a true story and the novel of the same name by Jon Krakauer, the film follows hitchhiker Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) who travelled up to Alaska in the early Nineties and attempted to live off the land by himself with next to no preparation. Directed by Sean Penn, the movie turns this tragic tale into a powerful character study and offers a possible insight into what drove its protagonist to such extreme lengths. Much better to isolate at home rather than an abandoned bus on a remote road in the Alaskan wilderness, after all.
Number 3: Amelie (2001)
After all that doom and gloom, how about something much lighter? Amelie has become a modern cult classic thanks to its very Gallic atmosphere, it's fantastical sense of whimsy and romance and the charming central performance from Audrey Tautou as the socially isolated dreamer who seeks happiness in other people's lives while unsure of her own. With wonderful cinematography and direction from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (the French mastermind behind films like Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children), the film is a feast for the eyes and the soul and continues to be a cult smash. If you haven't already, watch it as soon as you can.
Number 2: Solaris (1972)
Despite an English-language version with George Clooney in 2002, most people prefer the Russian-language original which sees a psychologist travel to a remote space station to discover what happened to the skeleton crew employed there. Director and co-writer Andrei Tarkovsky deliberately eschewed the West's fascination with technology to deliver a powerful psychological thriller which, like all good sci-fi, examines the human condition rather than focus on aliens, spaceships or laser weapons. Solaris is rightfully hailed as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time and frankly, it's hard to disagree.
Number 1: Rear Window (1954)
If ever there was a film about being indoors all day with nothing to do then surely it's Hitchcock's iconic mystery thriller. James Stewart plays an injured photographer stuck in his Greenwich Village apartment who thinks he may have accidentally witnessed a murder. Like the pro he was, Hitchcock squeezes every bit of tension out of this deceptively simple premise and brings us along for the ride, throwing us headfirst into this story of voyeurism and suspicion. Now widely regarded as one of Hitch's best, the film suggests that even the most incapable and housebound of individuals is still able to do good - even if it isn't necessarily via the best of means.
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