It’s been… *checks watch* just over a year since COVID-19 started, and the world has been put on a long-term time out. I was thinking of what kind of list I could create to commemorate such an occasion, and it seemed only appropriate to focus on horror films in which the subjects just can’t leave the house.
In many, many horror films, we often find ourselves perplexed by the subject’s inability to wisen up and just get out of the damn house. “Why don’t they just leave?”, we wonder (while secretly glad they don’t… it would be a very short and boring movie, otherwise). Well in these films, they actually can’t leave. Whether they’re put on house arrest or held for the sake of their own safety (supposedly), these protagonists are simply stuck.
100 Feet (2008)
After spending 7 years in prison for killing her abusive husband (in self defense), Marnie (Famke Janssen) is fitted with an ankle bracelet and held under house arrest for 6 months. She’s bored and lonely, but not alone — the spirit of her horrible husband is trapped in the house with her, and he’s pretty angry about the whole murder thing. As far as ghosts go, he’s rather hands-on, and Marnie is soon desperate to expel the spirit so she can serve her time in peace.
Full disclosure, the ghost effects are… not great. But the whole “you’re literally trapped in here with a very angry and motivated ghost with a score to settle” concept is a good one. And the early scenes of Marnie trying to find something to do in the house (pre-internet, poor thing) are pretty relatable.
Where to watch: Unavailable streaming
This New Zealand horror-comedy follows a troubled young woman named Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) who is sentenced to 8 months under house arrest after she tries (and fails) to rob an ATM. But to add insult to her ego’s injury, she’s placed at her childhood home under the care of her eccentric mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). Miriam is convinced the house is haunted, and as a reluctant Kylie learns more of the house’s secrets, she finds it harder to be a skeptic. But! It’s complicated.
This is really just a great film to check out for yourself. It’s the feature film debut for Gerard Johnstone, and he knocks it out of the park with a horror-comedy that works both angles well. Housebound has a lot of heart, particularly in the way it communicates Kylie’s challenging relationship with her mother and stepfather. You feel Kylie’s complex shifting attitudes towards her mother — annoyance and guilt, pity and frustration — and exactly how they affect Miriam, thanks to a masterful performance by Te Wiata.
Housebound has been highly praised by critics and fans alike, and took home the awards for Best Horror Film, Best Comedy Film, and Best Ensemble Cast at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (one of my favorite fests).
Where to watch: Hoopla, Tubi
Intruders (aka Shut In, 2015)
Agoraphobic Anna (Beth Riesgraf) has not left her house in the 10 years since her father’s death. When a group of thieves break in to steal her hidden fortune (making the unfortunately inaccurate assumption that she’d not be home), Anna — unable to leave to seek help — is forced to take matters into her own hands.
Intruders is an interesting take on house arrest horror because the only thing keeping Anna trapped inside the house is herself. There’s no legal pressure. A person with agoraphobia is afraid to leave areas that they consider to be safe, but with the security of her refuge compromised, Anna is confronted with a terrifying reality. Whenever she does try to leave, she’s overcome with a crippling panic attack that drives her back inside with such intensity that she physically can’t overcome it, even with the knowledge that she’s in grave danger.
One of the things that I love about Intruders is how it flips the script on the intruders. There’s a great moment when Anna turns the tide on their sorry asses that brought a cheer from the audience when I first saw the film at the Toronto After Dark Film Fest. The third act isn’t as strong, but it’s still a worthwhile watch.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Tubi
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
A spiritual successor to Cloverfield, the found footage hit, 10 Cloverfield Lane switches to a third-person narrative with a phenomenal (yet small) cast. In the film, two strangers — Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) — are brought to the underground bunker of a quiet yet imposing man named Howard (John Goodman, who is absolutely terrifying in this role). It seems that there has been some sort of attack and the air has been poisoned, and so the surprisingly homey bunker is their only safe haven. They are to be locked inside for at least a year, but Michelle begins to wonder about the legitimacy of Howard’s claims.
While they’re not exactly under house arrest, they are locked inside this underground “home” for a set amount of time, with no contact with the outside world. They’ve been told that they can’t leave — as much as they may want to. As with most other house arrest horror, there’s a montage of the ways they find to kill time, which — after this past year of isolated quarantine — feels all too familiar.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a bit of an unconventional addition to this list, but I feel it fits the theme.
Where to watch: Rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and YouTube
Rear Window (1954)
Widely considered to be one of Hitchcock’s best films, Rear Window is the classic tale of a housebound photographer turned armchair (wheelchair) detective. When L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies breaks his leg during a photography assignment, he’s stuck in his apartment, confined to his wheelchair and watching the neighbors through his window to kill his abundance of time. He gets wrapped up in the lives, loves, and losses of his fellow complex-dwellers, but in his near constant observance of their daily activities, he notices strange behavior from the man across the way that leads him to believe the man has killed his wife.
Come for the murder and study in voyeurism, stay for the gorgeous long shots that pan across the complex, focusing on each apartment and the rich lives that unfold within. It’s really a beautifully shot film, with a delightful romantic development between Jeff and his girlfriend Lisa (who he was initially going to dump because he thought she’d never be able to keep up with his rough-and-ready lifestyle).
It’s definitely more of a thriller, but to see how the concept can be given a more horror-friendly turn, check out Disturbia (2007). It’s really just a modern retelling of the Rear Window story, but with a serial killer neighbor and teen who’s stuck inside thanks to an ankle monitor that he earned by punching his teacher.
Where to watch: Rent on AppleTV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube
Where to watch Disturbia: Rent on AppleTV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube
Honorable Mention: Delirium (2018)
Tom (Topher Grace) is released from a mental institution and placed under house arrest for 30 days, with the caveat that if he has any trouble, he will be returned to the institution. Tom has inherited his father’s mansion (note that his father committed suicide 5 days prior to Tom’s release) and will be staying alone in the house, with his parole officer sent to check up on him every now and then. He suffers from hallucinations and struggles to maintain a grip on reality, receiving garbled phone calls and seeing visions of his deceased father. The situation, predictably, escalates.
Ok, I’ll be honest, Delirium isn’t a great film. The script is awkward, the plot is predictable, and it really overextends the logic of the situation (you’re telling me that after 20 years in a mental institution, they leave the guy alone, in a house, with no guidance or ability to care for himself, and just say “you’ll be free if you can handle this for 30 days”? No). But! It fits the theme, so, here it be.
Where to watch: Netflix