14. Sunshine (2007)
Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller only jumps into the horror genre during the final part of the movie, but when it does, it combines isolation and desperation and serves them on a plate of madness. Played by the likes of Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne and Chris Evans, the characters of “Sunshine” are trapped in a willingly imposed isolation. Their mission to the Sun is vital to humanity, while their own humanity is vital for them.
Indeed, the heroes from “Sunshine” know they are going to die and they willingly accept it. The problem is their heroic deaths get derailed by a less than heroic antagonist, one that embodies all their fears and psychoses. Sacrificing yourself for humanity is one thing. Sacrificing yourself for the lunacy of others… well, it’s “Sunshine”.
13. Buried (2010)
This Ryan Reynolds one-man recital is far from perfect and, as many would claim, “Buried” is closer to a suspense film than an actual horror film. Most of these objections come by the way of the lead character’s attitude. However, the film’s heavy reliance on claustrophobia and the ultimate fate of our hero make it score pretty high up on the horror chart.
“Buried” uses the simplest isolation premise: an unsuspecting victim is buried alive in what appears to be a wooden coffin, with only a lighter and a phone at hand. While the script also involves a more serious social commentary, the narrative alone is scary enough for anyone who’s been caught in a tight space, with nobody around to hear their voice.
12. Devil (2010)
This short movie, produced by M. Night Shyamalan, may seem like a surprising entry to many. The truth is, its premise is pretty much a synopsis of what isolation horror should be. Five people with different backgrounds are caught in a broken elevator. One of them is a cold-blooded murderer and that’s about all you get.
Unlike similar titles, “Devil” does not solely rely on its characters’ psychologies and backgrounds; it also makes intelligent use of its few premises. The fact that the elevator doesn’t get fixed in time, and the constant clues on the nature of the situation (one of them being the title), are simply a testimony to the film’s true intentions. You’re not supposed to discover who or what the monster is. You can’t help the main protagonists, either. You’ll simply find out the answer to one question: why?
11. The Mist (2007)
Based on a Stephen King novella, this Thomas Jane horror flick is powered by a great atmosphere and a well-placed plot twist. Despite its shortcomings with its acting and production, what makes “The Mist” worth mentioning is the fact that its characters are completely isolated at all times, even when they’re out in the open.
The aforementioned ‘mist’ is capable of turning every open space into a death trap, making the characters either seek refuge in closed spaces or simply charge into the unknown. Also, let’s not forget about the new ending that Frank Darabont preferred over the original, thus turning a creepy film into a horror movie.
10. REC (2007)
Compared to its American remake (“Quarantine”), the Spanish version of “REC” has both a more balanced pace and a more intriguing plot, although many of the original film’s important moments have been remade shot-for-shot. Jaume Balaguero’s production combines the anxiety of isolation with the fear of an unknown enemy, an enemy that manifests quite similarly to the classic zombie.
An ambitious news reporter follows a crew of firemen to the sight of a late night call. It is there that they discover a more sinister event that leaves both her and her cameraman stranded in an apartment building where their only help consists of scared neighbors, scared firemen and, of course, scared policemen. However, where the Spanish version of “REC” really shines is the final revelation: unlike the American version’s finale, the original ending adds a dash of originality to a stale genre.
9. The Descent (2005)
“The Descent” is a direct and uncompromising take on the ever-present theme of claustrophobia. On a well-deserved vacation, a group of friends decide to explore an unknown cave system in the area, guided by the apparent experience of their leader. Their underground adventure quickly escalates into trauma when an unknown enemy adds up to the list of things trying to kill them.
“The Descent” is neither well acted, nor too smart, but its success relies in editing and production. This independent British film is suffocating from beginning to the end, and its limited but impactful color palette makes it difficult to forget. Oh, and let’s not overlook the pool of blood our heroes eventually encounter.
8. Life (2017)
“Life” is a rather new addition to the genre and its similarities with the classic “Alien” are more than obvious. What sets “Life” apart is the ambition of making the scenario plausible. While the movie’s exact plot remains unfeasible, the idea of collecting alien organisms from close planets and studying them on the International Space Station is technologically possible.
Furthermore, the film’s cast, which includes Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hiroyuki Sanada, doesn’t just add stereotypes to the plot, it actually brings character. While the ethnical diversity is something to be expected on an international space station, the characters’ personal motivations also seem to make sense.
This means you actually care when somebody dies and you may even resonate with some of the more questionable actions of the crew. The only thing that raises some questions is the somewhat scientific, yet utterly weird, approach the director chose when creating the enemy. Aptly named Calvin, the alien organism resembles a tentacled space slug and, while its look makes evolutionary sense, it also manages to be, well… kind of cute.