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The 20 Best Isolation Horror Movies of All Time

14 June 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Vlad Stoiculescu

Alien

You’re caught under the fallen cabinet, and your best friend is nowhere in sight. He left for the police station more than half an hour ago. Alex and Sarah are most certainly dead. Your girlfriend is trying to get you out, but you know that, between you and her, she’s got the best chance of survival.

You kiss her on the forehead, tell her everything’s gonna be alright, and put the last remaining bullets in your gun. She runs in terror while the creature slowly approaches. As the jarring growl sends chills down your spine, you tell yourself “This can’t be happening!” and try to get that clear shot. It’s useless, but it’s worth a try…

The world of isolation horror is full of creepy enemies and doomed protagonists, but what makes this genre truly special is the setup. The creature, the mad scientist, or disease that’s trying to get you is rarely as dangerous as your own kind or as the environment itself. Isolation horror is a mix of claustrophobia and circumstance, sprinkled with the shivers of psychological terror.

Leaving everything aside, we urge you to close your doors and windows and read the following list in silence.

 

20. Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers

This British horror film has gained a cult following over the years. Although the special effects are not that special anymore and some of the shots might seem a bit off, “Dog Soldiers” is still a solid action film and a good candidate for our isolation horror list.

Caught in an extended training mission in the Scottish Highlands, a squad of six British soldiers do their best to outclass their apparent enemies, a band of special forces (SAS) troopers.

After they discover the grim fates of the SAS team, our heroes barricade themselves within a mountain cabin, where they are besieged by a cruel and determined enemy. In the end, you’ll notice “Dog Soldiers” does its best to mix solid action with horror and humor, and that, most of all, it does its best to create memorable characters.

 

19. Ils (2006)

ils

We tried to avoid home invasion films because the main antagonist in those films is not isolation, but a natural or supernatural assailant. While in “Hush” the ‘isolation’ part was depicted by the main character’s deficiency, the main characters in “Ils” willingly isolate themselves in a rural area of Romania, hoping for the usual peace and tranquility associated with the ‘countryside’.

Although the story is only loosely based on real events, and the so-called ‘countryside’ is actually a suburb, “Ils” gets multiple things right. Its heroes are vulnerable, the enemies are unpredictable, and the landscape plays an important part in the outcome of the film. However, the vaguely plausible premise is not what sets this French-Romanian film apart. Its savage and minimalist approach does.

 

18. The Shallows (2016)

The Shallows

Blake Lively may not be the first name that pops into your mind when you hear the word ‘horror’ (although she has starred in some low-budget flicks), “The Shallows” is an above-average film, with Lively showing both her perfect skin and her improving skills.

A medical student with a surfer alter-ego decides to practice her hobby on a secluded Mexican beach where she gets into trouble. Okay, that’s not an entirely accurate or fair description. Nancy, the title character, chooses that particular beach in order to honor the memory of her deceased mother. Less sensitive to her tragedy or her surfing skills, a great white shark strands her on a rock, far from the shore – and that’s where the actual horror begins.

 

17. Don’t Breathe (2016)

A surprising hit from last year, “Don’t Breathe” is the story of three troubled teens who make their living and earn their fun by breaking into their neighbors’ homes. Obviously, things take a turn for the worse as one of their “sure hits” proves to be far more difficult than they expected. While this is similar to many other titles, some of them rather recent (see the underrated “Intruders” from 2015), “Don’t Breathe” has a few advantages over its competition.

Locked inside a creepy house with a maniac, our protagonists (it’s hard to call them ‘heroes’) have to survive both sudden isolation and the immediate threat of extinction. To do so, our characters have to resort to an unwieldy ally: sensory deprivation. The best part, though? As you await for the demise of our protagonists, you can almost feel the jarring smell of mold and dampness that “Don’t Breathe” conjures at every step.

 

16. Hush (2016)

hush 2016

Since we’ve just tackled the idea of sensory deprivation, we couldn’t forget this little Netflix gem. Mike Flanagan has made quite a name for himself within the horror camp, and this entry does nothing to tarnish its legacy. Co-written with his wife, who also stars in the movie, “Hush” tells the story of a deaf-mute author who is assaulted by a masked psychopath. The unknown assailant traps his victim inside her house and constantly taunts her throughout the film.

While the masked murderer trope has been part of the horror genre since the 70s, and while home invasion films are nothing new, this film’s notable addition to the story is the condition of our hero. We know the premise of a sensory-deprived hero is not unique, but the ingenious rhythm in “Hush” raises it above other similar productions.

 

15. Howl (2015)

Howl (2015)

A rather late hit with critics, this British indie horror has more than decent production values and a premise that would have made it a cash cow in the 80s. We do realize “Howl” is more of a tribute to the classics than anything else, but since many audiences never really got to see it, this movie clearly deserves a second chance.

Ed Speleers (“Eragon”, “Downton Abbey”) is a jaded railroad employee who has just started his overnight shift. The train he’s supposed to watch gets derailed and attacked by a bunch of ferocious, supernatural creatures. Both he and the other passengers have to cope with this unusual event while trying to secure the train.

So, how is this production different from similar films? It’s simple. The cast of “Howl” includes obnoxious and aggressive characters whose egos leave no room for heroics, just like many of the passengers on a real overnight train. Unlike its monsters, the heroes in this film actually feel real!

 

 

 

 

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  • Zwei

    The Collector (1965)

  • Jeff Beachnau

    In a Glass Cage (1986)
    StageFright (1987)

  • Reg O’Foote

    Night of the Living Dead!!!!
    Not technically a horror movie but Assault on Precinct 13

    • Reg O’Foote

      Kudos for the inclusion of Do Soldiers and the Descent. Neil Marshall makes some enjoyable movies.

  • Exit Exit Quit

    The Invitation

  • Great list. Horrible ranking, but fantastic films, and a few lesser-known gems.

  • Andrey Koshmar

    Funny games should be in the first place. And, of course, the films of the ancestor of isolation horror Polanski.

  • SupernaturalCat

    The Abandoned (2006) …Russian horror tale of a woman who returns to her childhood home deep in the forest in order to face her past.

    The Monster (2016) …alcoholic mother fights for her and her daughter’s lives after a minor car accident at night deep in the forest. Also a bit of a tear-jerker.

    Dead End (2003) …a family travels a neverending road through a forest on Christmas eve.

    Blair Witch Project (1999) …doesn’t get much more effectively primitive and isolated than this one.

    Night of The Living Dead (1968) …classic from one of the masters, Romero, ’nuff said.

    The Ninth Configuration (1980) …written and directed by Exorcist
    author, William Peter Blatty, this gem technically isn’t a horror film,
    but has many of the genre’s trappings–the entire film is set in an
    abandoned castle (Castle Eltz in Germany) that has is being used as a
    mental asylum by the US military to observe conscientious objector
    soldiers during the Vietnam aggression.

    My last pick for this entry, Phil Kaufman’s brilliant, and oozing with paranoid atmosphere and dread re-working of the science fiction-horror classic, Invasion of The Body Snatchers!

    Ever hear of ‘the lonely crowd?’ (1950s sociological analysis) …well, the point being, there are ways that someone can be the most isolated within a crowd of people …or, pod people, as the case may be.

    As we watch the last remaining sentient beings of San Fransisco attempt to make sense of their suddenly unfamiliar world, we feel the awful inevitability of horror pressing against them from all sides, from countless dead stares of throngs of strangers and passers by, and knowing looks shared among them, the alien impostors who seek to take them over.

    Any time I happen to catch it, there’s a scene toward the end where the aliens have come in groups in the night, surrounding the house the remaining humans are held up in, the power and phone lines are then cut, signalling doom, and Jeff Goldblum, playing leftist, non-conformist author, Jack, frantically asks Donald Sutherland’s character, a state health inspector, “Matthew…do you have a gun?” You hear the unhinged panic in his voice. Both are progressives/liberals, unlikely to own a firearm, yet Jack asks anyway. For some reason, that scene, that bit, always sends the chills and raises the hackles. Horrifying movie.

    • Vincenzo Politi

      Great comment, my friend! And, by the way, Dead End is just soooo wicked!

  • Pankaj Saini

    Nice compilation of horror movies. But if you also like Hindi song then must visit this site for songs and lyrics

  • Just want to tell the writer that I checked out Hidden because of this article and really really enjoyed it. A rare “isolation,”/bottle episode movie with a payoff that’s worth it – great third act.

  • Vincenzo Politi

    Hidden is very intense and it is beautifully acted. Let’s face it: Alexander Skarsgard is good! But the true revelation is the little girl. She is so heartbreaking and – I confess – she had me all teary-eyed more than once.

  • Robert Codreanu

    I don’t understand why you put Cube on so many of your lists , that film sucks

  • Deepanjan S Chanda

    What about “Room”?

  • Ted Wolf

    I always thought Deliverance was a great isolation horror movie.

  • Vincenzo Politi

    Stoic (2009), German movie shot entirely inside a prison cell. It’s not exactly a horro movie, it’s more a psychologial thriller/torture movie, but the way the plot unfolds is truly horrific. It does not help that the movie is based on true events: it’s actually heartbreaking!