Just when you’d given up hope of ever feeling discomfort in the cinema again, along comes something which reaffirms your faith in the art of tense and edgy film. The Dutch thriller Claustrofobia (2011) is one such exercise. The debut from director Bobby Boermans, starring Carolien Spoor, Dragan Bakema and Thijs Römer, is a tale of twisted vengeance which will make you think twice before becoming overly friendly with your next-door neighbours, or living in a high-tech home complete with keypad entry system.
Eva (Spoor) can’t believe her luck when she moves into a trendy apartment for what seems a bargain monthly rent. Her new neighbours may be a bit odd, and she’s struggling to achieve her dream of becoming an actress, but her life has turned a corner, she’s sure of it. Unfortunately someone very nasty is waiting just around that corner. Someone with a plan for revenge in which Eva has a starring role.
That Claustrofobia appears genuinely chilling in this day of lacklustre, seen-it-before thrillers, is a testament to the fresh talent of Boermans and his skill as a director to ratchet up the tension early on, yet sustain it throughout the film despite very little actually happening. Once it gets down to the crux of the proceedings, which it does reasonably quickly, the story is in fact quite simple, revolving around a seemingly repetitive scenario of capture and escape. However the fact that in spite of this the film manages to hold your attention for ninety minutes providing ample shocks to keep you on the edge of your seat, goes to show that big budgets and extravagant effects aren’t necessary to produce memorable horror. Though it doesn’t take long to work out who the film’s murderous protagonist really is, the reasoning behind their warped logic will come as more of a surprise when revealed during the film’s taut finale.
The real magic of Claustrofobia however is felt in the suffocating air which it instils through its use of minimum sets and cast and the said simplicity of the plot. Taking place virtually within one apartment (though this admittedly has a warren-like interior including a hidden basement), which the characters seldom get to leave, the viewer is drawn into a frighteningly closed world from which there is no apparent escape. This is further emphasised through the aforementioned basement where the catalytic events, which produce much of the horror, take place. Brought to life in a grimy half-light, the darkness of this subterranean chamber and what takes place within its confines, is highlighted by the sparseness of the bright and clinical apartment above. That this area is achingly hip in a minimalistic and futuristic fashion is of little consolation to the victims of the crimes that periodically spill into it from the room beneath.
The relatively small cast (there are really only four people central to the plot) also adds to the pared back feeling of the film overall, as well as further underlining the characters’ sense of removal from the outside world. Spoor is brilliant as Eva, and her sense of initial disquiet, which gradually builds to full-on panic verging on hysteria, is wonderfully realised by this promising young actress of whom we can only hope that we see more. To reveal anything further about the cast and what becomes of them would spoil one of the most effective aspects of the film. Suffice to say that no-one meets the end quite how you expect them to in a film which fortunately forgoes a ‘classic’ ending in favour of something refreshingly unforeseen.
On the strength of Claustrofobia, lovers of thought-provoking film, whether they are horror or of a more general subject matter, should be grateful that filmmakers from outside the constraints of mainstream Hollywood are still willing to push boundaries, coming up with original cinema as a result.
Claustrofobia was released in the Netherlands on Blu-ray and the USA on DVD in 2012. It was released in the UK on DVD on the 21st of January, 2013.
Cleaver Patterson is a film critic and writer based in London.