Breaking tells the real-life story of Brian Brown-Easley, a former veteran so failed by systemic injustice and incompetence, he ended up holding a bank hostage to demand the benefits payments he was owed – just $892. The film takes place almost entirely in the bank, depicting the hostage situation in real-time. It creates an intensely claustrophobic atmosphere, as every action taken place is witnessed by the audience in its every detail. To mark the UK release of Breaking, we take a look at other thrillers that take place mainly in one room, from Old Hollywood to the present day.
12 Angry Men
This 1957 classic takes place almost entirely in a jury deliberation room, where 12 jurors decide the fate of a young man accused of stabbing his abusive father to death. As they attempt to reach a unanimous verdict, their varied experiences, personalities, and prejudices cause them to clash. The men struggle to embody the most necessary quality of a jury – impartiality – when confronted with a case that brings up uncomfortable and deeply personal issues. 12 Angry Men, still as relevant as ever, is a gripping watch. Its one-room setting allows it to eschew visual spectacle in favour of a profound study of character.
The Breakfast Club
This famous 1985 coming-of-age film tells the story of five teenagers stuck in Saturday detention. Each representing a different high school clique, they find unexpected common ground while sequestered together, developing a profound, unspoken bond. The teenagers’ seclusion allows audiences to see how their identity as an individual clashes with their stereotypical persona –goth, nerd, rich girl etc. As the film only takes place during the detention, the audience never learns what happens once they go home – whether they maintain this unexpected group of friends, or retreat to their familiar cliques.
In Saw, two men wake to find themselves chained to pipes, with a dead body in the middle. They are at the mercy of the Jigsaw Killer, their faceless kidnapper who tests their will to live through deadly games, where they are forced to inflict violence on themselves, and others to survive. The one-room setting puts Jigsaw’s game as the narrative’s focal point. The audience are shown the main characters in shocking and traumatic circumstances, then as the plot progresses, and they have glimpses of the men’s past, bit by bit they discover how this came to pass. Saw spawned many profitable sequels, but the low-budget original film’s horror lay in its sense of dread, not just its bloody violence.
A 2010 Spanish thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, Buried takes the one-room conceit to its most claustrophobic extreme. Tapping into the surprisingly common fear of being buried alive, it depicts an American civilian buried alive in a wooden coffin by terrorists. He is left with only a few objects – including a mobile phone, a lighter and a knife – to make his escape. We see him making phone calls to the US government and his family, creating a gripping visual dichotomy where he is trapped within the smallest of rooms, communicating with people around the world as they try to secure his release. All this while sand is filling the coffin, acting as a literal representation of a sand-timer.
The Guilty is a 2018 Danish thriller. Set in two squalid rooms, we follow a police officer on emergency dispatch duty who, over a series of phone calls, becomes involved in what appears to be an ongoing case of domestic abuse and kidnapping. We as the audience feel his anxiety as he is powerless to do anything but talk on the phone. Forgoing visual or aural spectacle, this limited setting, where the protagonist has one means of communication with the outside world, keeps a continuous feeling of nail-biting suspense. The Guilty stands out as an example of filmmaking stripped back to the essentials – a gripping narrative and subtle, well-crafted performances.
Our review | please read . Breaking is available to rent and own on Digital Download in the UK and Ireland from 27th March.