There’s no denying that we are in strange times, and that’s no more evident than in the fact that when I say “we” I’m referring to people all over the world enduring the same situation simultaneously. There’s safety in staying at home, now more than ever, but for many of us that means wiling away the hours, days, and weeks with hobbies new and old while having to share space with loved ones and without much in the way of breaks. I’m good with books, movies, writing, watching, and playing games, but lots of people are apparently bored nearly out of their skulls.
As bad as that sounds, though, things could be far, far worse. We’re all staying home despite the boredom and bad haircuts because we know doing so is the right call and we’ll be back to normal soon enough, but what if staying indoors — in the relative comfort of your house, apartment, or maybe even your mansion — posed a downside to your body, mind, and/or soul far worse than the tedium of eating the same meals and breathing the same air day in and day out?
The films below are all great and worth watching anytime, but they take on a special essence these days as they feature people stuck at home — whether by choice, circumstance, or threat — and having far worse days than most of us. They’re all set mostly in one home location, and I’ve kept traditional horror films out of the running as the list could easily consist of nothing but horror (plus, I appreciate a challenge).
Keep reading for a look at movies about people stuck at home that you can stream right now on various subscription services!
All the Kind Strangers (1974)
A photographer on a road trip sees his kind deed take a painful turn when he’s held captive by a group of kids and teens. They’re orphan siblings who’ve decided to pick their parents, and saying no to their love is a dangerous endeavor. This atmospheric little thriller was actually the first entry in our column about TV movie terrors from the 70s, and it remains a great watch. Stacey Keach and Samantha Eggar play the two most recent strangers to find themselves trapped in the house, and what could easily have been a pure horror film instead finds some heart as the couple realize these kids are less evil than they are sad and lonely.
This comedy classic is more interested in laughs than in highlighting the misery of being stuck at home, but it’s not as much fun for the folks being knocked off within the mansion’s walls. Even the survivors can’t escape unscathed, though, as in addition to the severe mistrust and suspicions being leveled at everyone, some of them are actually murderers. Hell, all of them are depending on which ending you watch.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Takashi Miike’s filmography is filled with an abundance of violence, bloodletting, pain, and suffering, but while this brilliant remake of The Quiet Family (1998) is tame by comparison it’s still a tough ride for the family. Their home is a mountain retreat they’re hoping to turn into a thriving hotel business, but without fail their guests keep dying in absurd accidents. The family buries the corpses to avoid ruining their hotel’s Yelp reviews, but they just can’t catch a break and soon the dead are rising from their graves. I know, it sounds like a horror film, and the Katakuris aren’t having fun, but this is actually the warmest, sweetest, and most cheer-worthy “zombie” movie you’ll ever see. Things work out in the end to the point that you might even shed a tear or two, but it’s not an easy road getting there! Oh, and did I mention it’s a musical that occasionally descends into claymation?
A man spends his days and nights sneaking into homes while the owners are away, and while he eats their food and uses their facilities he also does odd jobs around the place and fixes whatever he finds broken. His latest temporary home isn’t as empty as he thinks, though, and as the abused wife watches him from the shadows a bond between these two lost souls starts to form. Kim Ki-duk’s masterpiece is a love story unlike any other as the two barely share a word between them. Instead, their feelings are communicated through expressions, actions, and Kim’s beautiful film-making. There’s trouble brewing for the pair making it a fit for this list, but the film remains a romantic gem despite the hardships presented by the return of the woman’s husband.
In an unknown time and an unknown place, a family’s walled compound sees harsh lessons being taught to three adult siblings. They’re not allowed outside the walls, and their parents use lies and violence to manipulate them. They claim it’s for their protection, but this is madness taken to an extreme. Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, 2015; The Favourite, 2018) has seen his more recent films break through to wider audiences with their recognizable talents and humor, but this earlier title is a far tougher watch as the siblings are put through the mental and physical ringer. Incest, abuse, and funerals for imaginary people are the norm, and it all leads to a grim reminder of the dangers of leaving your house.
The Sunset Limited (2011)
Two men meet in a New York City apartment, but all is not as it seems. One (Tommy Lee Jones) is preparing to kill himself, and the other (Samuel L. Jackson) believes he’s there to stop him. Jones directs this film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s stage play, and it’s a low-key stunner. The two have disparate views on life, death, and the existence of god, and they spend the film debating the merits of their beliefs with engaging and at times engrossing results. It’s McCarthy so you know it’s no party in this apartment.
It’s a Disaster (2013)
Of all the films on this list, this comedy comes closest to our current real-life predicament. A group of friends in Los Angeles are gathered together for brunch at Pete and Emma’s house, but before they can even begin to eat the world outside descends into chaos. A dirty bomb may have gone off making the air outside deadly to breathe, but the friends’ relationships and sanity start to crumble being confined in such close quarters. Writer/director Todd Berger’s film is very funny, frequently surprising, and spot on in its observations about relationships.
Like the comedy above, this twisty little gem starts with a group of friends gathering together for food, drink, and good times. The dinner party takes a turn, though, when a comet passing overhead plays havoc with the world they thought they knew. The characters do leave the relative safety of the house at times to go elsewhere, but, well, it still fits this list. Fans of small, smart science fiction movies should get on this one if they haven’t already. Hell, get on it again even if you already have.
Ex Machina (2015)
A programmer is thrilled after being selected by a renowned genius to visit his remote mansion, but it gets even better when he’s introduced to the man’s A.I. creation. And by better I of course mean sexier, deadlier, weirder, and far more thought-provoking. Alex Garland’s terrific film sees Domhnall Gleeson trapped in a house with Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Sonoya Mizuno, but while that sounds like heaven it might just be hell. Gorgeous cinematography, a great score, and some absolutely killer visual effects add to the fun.
The Overnight (2015)
Making friends as adults can be hard, so when it happens you want to leap on the opportunity to make sure it sticks. Or do you? Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling play a couple new to Los Angeles who accept an invite to visit new friends Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche, but a good time turns into a crazy time involving alcohol, secrets, butt-hole paintings, and someone’s penis. But hey, it’s all in the name of friendship.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
I don’t want to scare you off from seeing this absolutely beautiful film, so while it fits the bill of this list I’ll add that it’s also a gorgeous love story that would make for a good pairing with 3-Iron above. Céline Sciamma’s latest sees two women on a small island, one is a wealthy socialite heading towards an arranged marriage, and the other is the artist hired to paint her portrait for the ceremony. Isolated in the house and small landscape surrounding by crashing waves, the two women move from silence to conversation to love. All the praise you’ve heard about the film is true. Is being isolated and falling in love despite knowing it’s destined not to be worse than the isolation we’re all in right now? That’s up to you to decide.
There are plenty more worthwhile movies about people stuck at home and having a worse time than you, but some you have to stream via a rental. But hey, what else are you going to do with your time? Go toss some money towards these movies if you have the opportunity!
Rope (1948), An Inspector Calls (1954), The Exterminating Angel (1962), House (1977), Roar (1981), Deathtrap (1982), Panic Room (2002), Hard Candy (2005), Bug (2006), Carnage (2011), 10,000 km (2015), 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), Mother’s Little Helpers (2020)