The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more. The idea of man coming up against his mortality in the most extreme of circumstances is of course hardly new to cinema, however zeitgeist-y it may feel at the moment. Chandora€™s claustrophobic, exhausting a€?All is Lost,a€? and Steve McQueena€™s unflinching, exhausting a€?12 Years a Slave,a€? which open this week, will have seen to that.
In fact cinema, with its facility for allowing us to vicariously experience all manner of existential peril from the comfort and safety of a popcorn-strewn Row F, has long been fascinated with this form.

All four films boast a certain storytelling economy and a similar leanness to their approach, which belies just how different they are. So now that our thesauruses automatically fall open at the a€?thrillinga€? page anyway, we thought this would be a good time to take a look back at a selection of those titles that aim for that particular gut punch. But more importantly, all put the viewer through an impressively immediate, often physically grueling, life-or-death experience in which a person, pitted against seemingly insurmountable odds, has to find the resources within themselves to prevail against an implacable enemy: deep space, the cruel sea, slavery, the wrong end of a machine gun brandished by a Somali pirate. Some land it more successfully than others, but all in some way offer us a peep into the abyss, after which we can pull back into the warmth, just that little bit gladder to be alive.

And no doubt the argument du jour will be about the relative merits of one or the other (indeed, we already kind of started on last weeka€™s podcast). The important thing to remember is that, personal preferences aside, all four are absolutely terrific movies.

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