In 2017, the horror film “Claustrophobia” directed by Will Wernick was released in the States, and after that on the world stage, under the intriguing slogan “The puzzle must be put together at any cost.”
The picture tells about the misadventures of young people who decided to try out a newfangled game, which later became fatal for them.
On his thirtieth birthday, Tyler, played by Evan Williams, receives an unusual gift from his girlfriend Christian (Elizabeth Hauer) – an invitation to take on a mysterious logic quest. At first, solving puzzles captivates the intellectual Tyler and four of his friends, but soon the young people realize that the tasks are becoming more difficult and more dangerous, and the quest is not going to forgive mistakes.
Fun entertainment turns into a game of survival, which, like a litmus test, reveals everything bad in people, exposing the darkest facets of the personality of people who were once close to each other.
The idea of films about poor fellows trying to get out of confined spaces is not new in the horror genre, you can think of James Wan’s Saw, for example. However, in 2017, this formulaic plot took on a new meaning, because quests became mass entertainment that could be found at every turn. People strive to get thrills that they lack so much in real life, but they do not even suspect that these games can reveal animal fear in them, paralyzing the body and thoughts and forcing them to do everything that will allow them to save their lives.
The idea of the film is to show how successful, socialized people who have many friends and soul mates, in non-standard situations, the survival instinct wakes up, which destroys the usual social and moral foundations. Love, friendship, warm memories no longer have power over them, people are ready to sacrifice the lives of loved ones in order to save their own.
The short running time (81 minutes) did not allow to fully reveal the characters’ characters. The focus is on an ordinary company of friends, within which disagreements constantly arise: young people let go of each other’s barbs, on which the director’s attention is not focused in any way, the atmosphere in pairs seems tense. The unspoken leader (Tyler) immediately emerges, who is sure that he knows more than others, his girlfriend Christian is an extraordinary person who tries to stand out with her actions. There is an interesting parallel between Anderson and Natasha, played by Annabelle Stevenson and Dan J. Johnson: he is withdrawn and feels out of place, unlike his wife, who brought Anderson to this company. But the drawing of the characters is not detailed, and the speed with which they die does not allow the viewer to feel sympathy for any of them.
However, I would like to comment on some situations in which the characters are revealed to the fullest. One of the most intense moments is when a couple of lovers, locked in a room, take turns pulling a lever that is able to open the door, but will not let both of them out. The door is too heavy for the heroine, but her boyfriend will be able to get out if she sacrifices herself. The hero chooses to live, and his girlfriend is left to die in agony.
In parallel, in the next room, Tyler is watching his girlfriend Christian, locked in a cage, on the monitor. The guy is able to free his girlfriend, but he is sure that she knew about the death trap waiting for them, so he presses the “save yourself” button. At the same moment, an iron pin is pierced in the young man’s heart, and Christian is freed from the cage and runs to the telephone booth in the hope of being saved.
There is another hero in the film who does not appear on the screens, but presumptuously takes on the role of arbiter of fate. This someone with cruelty and cold cynicism is watching the terrible death of young people who fell into his trap. Who this man is and why he so subtly mocks the heroes remains unclear.
Unfortunately, Wernick could not show either the motives of the maniac who started this game, or the selection of participants in the deadly quest, so the ending seemed blurry. An open ending for films of this genre is typical, but in the hope of knocking out a sequel from the company, the director completely forgot about the viewer, leaving him no clues and depriving him of a clear and interesting outline of the villain.