Trickery. Movies are built on and out of it. The twist ending. The unusual casting or the actor playing against type. Even stories can create their own magic through their use of ideas and invention. One of the most popular, especially in certain genre titles, is the trap. Villains love to set up such ambushes as part of their devious plans, while heroes occasionally use same to defeat their foes. The more criminally insane often employ these concepts as a way of teaching the immoral or uncaring victim pool a lesson, while the police implement similarly styled subterfuge to discover such psychosis. In fact, one franchise, the one built out of James Wan and Leigh Whannel’s game changing suspense thriller Saw, went from being about a madman with a mission to all about the traps. In fact, few fans can remember the mythology. Most remember the various cruel contraptions Jigsaw uses to meter out his revenge.
Therefore, we think it’s time to celebrate these moviemaking mechanics with one of our patented lists. This time around, in celebration of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire arriving on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD on 7 March, we have to come up with some clear caveats. First, we aren’t talking about mere set-ups. Putting a policeman in a dress hoping a rapist will target him is not our idea of a true “trap.” Secondly, we had to limit Saw‘s influence on the final tally. From rotting pig grinders to gun barrels against door peep holes, these movies could easily make up their own compendium (hey…). Finally, we are dealing with contemporary films here. Certainly there were times in the past when the idea was used, but it’s better to limit our scope to what’s happened in the post-modern era. With that being said, here is out list of the 10 Best Movie Traps of All Time. They may not be the most inventive or terrifying, but all have an impact that lingers long after other elements of the movie mentioned have faded away.
This is a bit of a stretch, but it still qualifies. When Paul Newman’s character, private investigator Lew Harper, is trapped with a target’s wife in the above listed locale, he tries everything to escape. Finally, he decides to flood the entire room, hoping the pressure will pop the door and/or windows. Placing clothing in the drain, he turns on the massive spigots and lets the entire space fill with water. It’s tension upon suspense until some suspicious character’s return, hoping to get Harper to “talk”. They get something instead. A bit fat liquid surprise.
Of all the Saw traps—and there are literally dozens to choose from—we picked this as one of the most horrific. It’s not the most ingenious. It’s not the most complicated. In fact, it’s just a hole in the floor of a random room filled with disgusting used syringes. The point is, Jigsaw sets this up as a test of one of his disciples, and when a pissed off drug dealer throws her in to find the key (the “needle in a haystack” so to speak) the agony on her face is very real. So is the psychological trauma.
While Paul W. S. Anderson‘s adaptation of the popular video game made some fans angry, others have turned it into one of the longest running and most successful franchises in film. While the sequels seem to rely more and more on big budget action, the original movie had some ingenuity to it, including this bit where a wary computer trying to protect itself unleashes a dissection distraction for the military men trying to infiltrate its secrets. The F/X may be a bit CF-corny, but the end result is one of the most memorable elements in the entire movie.
If the first Hunger Games was all about survival, the second version of the dystopian phenom (arriving on home video today) was about rebellion and fighting the system. To that extent, in order to keep the competitors in line this time around, the entire arena—a Truman Show like island—is one big trap, with timed floods, poisonous fog, etc. used to control/kill off the competitors. Eventually, our heroine and her allies figure out the atoll’s timepiece tech specs, leading to a major reveal, and the moment when the entire franchise turns from kids killing kids to kids taking on the Establishment.
It’s an idea so simple it’s surprising no one else thought of it. A disgruntled cop, hoping to get the money his agency failed to deliver, sets up a bomb on a city bus. He then lets everyone know that if the vehicle travels at less than 55 MPH, the entire blows sky high. Placing a policeman on the bus only ups the ante, as does the desire for those involved to thwart the explosive plan. In the end, our villain has more mischief up his ornery sleeve, but his initial trap takes the four wheel drive cake.
// Notes from the Road
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