Trapped Together: 5 Thrilling Ensemble Films
There are few things more enjoyable than watching a great group of actors trying to survive an unknown force, and each other, in an interesting locale. In anticipation of The Bad Times at the El Royale, the TFS staff takes a look at some other notable single-location thrillers. From a snow-covered Western, to a board game adaptation, to a meta horror extravaganza - these films make the most out of their talented casts.
One of the funniest movies of all time, Jonathan Lynn’s Clue features a crackerjack ensemble. Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Michael McKean, Colleen Camp, and the incomparable Madeline Kahn are all stuck together in a Gothic mansion with a murderer. Based on the board game, Clue is a madcap, lunatic comedy movie that respects its central mystery just enough that it remains engaging. While adapting a board game into a feature film sounds like Hollywood running out of ideas, the unique game play of Clue lends itself to a cinematic adaptation. The mansion, with its large, unique rooms, hidden passageways, and plethora of makeshift weapons, makes for a delectable setting for a murder mystery. The characters in the game are already larger than life, and this cast of comedy heavyweights have the exact right chemistry and wacky sensibility. We get stuck in this ludicrous mansion with these maybe murderers, but thanks to the film’s timelessness and re-watchability, it’s well worth the risk.
- Manish Mathur
The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight, is a powder keg of tension through and through. It places all these, ahem, hateful characters together in one place, with at least one there under false circumstances. It’s a Western, sure, but save for the grand, sweeping snow-covered opening, the 70mm-shot film mostly takes place indoors. The wide scope cinematography by Robert Richardson captures the enigmatic characters amazingly; each back-and-forth between legends Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh does them justice and helps pull you into the large web of deceit sprawled inside Minnie's Haberdashery. Each character actors’ face is capture on the most cinematic of film formats; Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir — all in glorious 70mm. The twists and turns are not the best we’ve seen from Tarantino; it feels like he’s treading familiar ground, here, taking from Reservoir Dogs especially. But he’s also stealing from the best, as he tends to do, purposefully casting Kurt Russell and having Ennio Morricone score the film, in a mini The Thing reunion in a Western nod to John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi classic. It should also be said this is Tarantino’s meanest film, by far, one that plays all too well in today’s climate. A truly American tale of lies and bloodshed, The Hateful Eight truly does sing as a finely-tuned ensemble piece.
- Marcelo Pico
The Killing Room
Four strangers are brought together after they agreed to take part in a mysterious government test in an isolated location in exchange for a few hundred bucks. They are taken to a bright white room by an overseer (Peter Stormare), who shoots one of them dead and locks them all in with the body. The remaining three (Nick Cannon, Timothy Hutton, Shea Whigham) are left to figure out what kind of test this is, why it is happening to them, and if they can escape. To explain exactly how here would spoil a great reveal, but The Killing Room puts a clever, socially relevant twist on the “locked in a room” thriller subgenre. It’s all shot in a very matter of fact, realistic way. The stark white room, where a majority of the film takes place, leaves a lot to the imagination, and lays all of the film’s tension on the shoulders of it’s stacked cast. There are almost no frills, but the whole film is full of fear and overwhelming dread thanks to them. It’s captivating enough to find out exactly what’s going on, but combine that with a bevy of incredible performances from the likes of Stormare, Hutton, and Chloë Sevigny and career best performances from Cannon and Whigham, and you’ve got one of the greatest criminally underseen thrillers around.
- Marcus Irving
While James Mangold’s Identity operates much like a standard slasher (a group of people being picked off by an unknown killer in an isolated location) and has the the set-up of an Agatha Christie novel (specifically “And Then There Were None”) there are some ingenious ways it plays with those tried and true formulas. Ten strangers find themselves stranded at a trashy motel in the desolate Nevada desert during a downpour. These strangers are made up of a who’s who of character actors including John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John C. McGinley, John Hawkes, and Clea Duvall. They all do good to great work allowing us to quickly get a handle on their personalities and motivations, critical to a film as efficiently paced as this one. Mangold’s control of mood and tension is on full display here as he elevates the material considerably. Identity gets its hooks in quickly and just when you think you have a handle on where it’s headed it takes another left turn. It all works though, especially the truly shocking ending that I wouldn’t dare spoil. Take my word for it though, this film is definitely worth a look.
The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods is the Truman Show of horror movies. Five college friends who showcase typical horror tropes go on a retreat to a secluded log cabin. The remote cabin has a realm of mystery to it as mirrors are see through like interrogation rooms, taxidermied wolves hang on the wall, and a creepy basement opens up revealing horrific things. Following the reciting of a Latin written diary, all hell breaks loose, however; the hell is controlled by an underground facility at the fingertips of the hilarious Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Zombies rise from the ground to cause chaos as they start killing off the teens one by one as their blood is used for an even larger purpose. In an attempt to bring back slasher flicks littered with campy fun, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard created a comedy for all horror fans. It taps into nostalgia with their renditions of quintessential horror icons and monsters. The artistic side of the movie also has a very special link to the past as it is done by a favorite final girl of many, Heather Langenkamp. Her husband also assisted in the gruesome details. The Cabin in the Woods is a fun ride for any Halloween viewing.
- Rachael Hauschild