Fright Club: 1, 2, or 3 Person Casts

Fuzzy math takes over as we count cast members and celebrate minimalist films that can seep into your nightmares with the help of very few performers. There are some great options, but here are our six favorites films with 1, 2, or 3 people in the cast.

Thanks Fright Clubber Michael for the topic!

6. Hard Candy (2005)

It would be two years before Elliot Paige burst into public consciousness as the hilarious and pregnant teen in Juno–still a kid getting herself into trouble, I guess. But the trouble in Hard Candy is tougher to manage.

Paige is a force of nature, playing off Patrick Wilson in a cat-and-mouse game where roles are flexible. Director David Slade keeps tensions ratcheted up to an unbearable level while Brian Nelson (who collaborated with Spade on the underappreciated vampire flick 30 Days of Night) twists the knife in a script as sharp and shady as these actors are wily and hard edged. It’s a breathless exploration of all that’s bad in the world.

5. Buried (2010)

If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to sit this one out. A tour de force meant to unveil Ryan Reynolds’s skill as an actor, Buried spends a breathless 95 minutes inside a coffin with the lanky Canadian, who’s left his quips on the surface.

Writer Chris Spalding stretches credibility as he tries to keep the crises lively, which is unfortunate because the simple story and Reynolds’s raw delivery makes this a gut-wrenching experience.

4. Creep (2014)

This true two-man show boasts dark and twisted humor, a great jump scare, and a truly exceptional mask.

Writer/director Patrick Brice plays Aaron, hapless videographer seeking work, thrills, maybe even love. He answers an ad to record Josef (Mark Duplass) at home, and then on the road. The film toys with that inner warning you hear and then choose to ignore.

Duplass has an incredible aptitude for pushing boundaries just enough to prick that inner voice but not quite enough to guarantee that you’ll head for the exit. As red flag after red flag go unheeded, Brice unveils more and more chilling detail.

3. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

This one is a threesome. Well, not if Howard (a glorious John Goodman) has anything to say about it.

The feature debut from director Dan Trachtenberg toys with the idea of an alien invasion (or some kind of chemical warfare), but it keeps you snugly indoors with Howard and his guests Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Guess which one Howard doesn’t really want around?

The trio of performances compel your attention, even in the few down moments. This is a tight, taut thrill ride—even if it is confined to one guy’s basement.

2. Antichrist (2009)

Boy, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe are a one/two punch in this one. A married couple overcoming the guilt and desperate grief of their son’s death, the two make some increasingly dreadful decisions.

Alone in their apartment, the two bodies take up much of the screen. Once we move to the cabin in the woods, the colors become deeper and darker, the atmosphere denser, and the actors appear almost tiny and insignificant inside all this throbbing, living nature. Both performances are jarring and fantastic in a movie quite unlike any other.

1. The Lighthouse (2019)

The one thing you just don’t do as you descend into madness is spill your beans.

Dafoe again, this time with Robert Pattinson as his wickie mate in one of the most fascinating examinations of power shifts in horror history. Gorgeously photographed in black and white and boasting 2019’s best sound design, The Lighthouse offers these two actors plenty to work with.

But in the end, it’s the performances that kill you. Madness!

Earning Your Wings


by George Wolf

Palmer has Justin Timberlake, an adorable little kid and a heartwarming message. Heck, it’s not much more than some sexytime and a few beers away from being an afterschool special.

Yes, you can guess where it’s going. No, you will not be sorry for the trip.

J.T. is Eddie, who prefers you just call him by his last name. He was once a hot shot Louisiana high school quarterback with a scholarship to LSU. But after injuries ended Palmer’s career early, his quick temper got him sent away for 12 long on attempted murder.

But he’s served his time, so now Palmer has come back to his small, “church and football” hometown to move in with Grandma Vivian (June Squibb). Once there, it doesn’t take Palmer long to notice Shelly, the trailer train-wreck next door (Juno Temple).

Shelly leaves town a lot, and when she does, her son Sam (Ryder Allen in a perfectly lovable debut) stays with Viv. Sam doesn’t like football. Sam likes princesses, having tea parties, and dressing up in costumes that come with wings and tiaras.

Director Fisher Stevens fleshes out Cheryl Guerriero’s script with a fine instinct for knowing we don’t need to be led by the nose. There will be bonding, bullies beaten down and lessons learned, plus Sam’s pretty teacher (Alisha Wainwright) is single, so, you know.

Timberlake is gritty and finely understated, letting Palmer’s feelings for Sam unveil themselves with a gradual, and ultimately authentic depth. Palmer has scars from his childhood, too, but as expected as his kinship with Sam is, it seldom feels mawkish.

And Allen, well this kid just skips away with the movie tucked inside his glittery backpack. When Palmer tells Sam there are no boys on his favorite TV show and Sam confidently responds that he will be the first, all the hate that the world throws at kids like Sam seems – if only for a moment – miles away.

There is contrivance and familiarity at work in Palmer, no doubt. But there’s also enough heart, and pure hopeful innocence, to earn this film some wings.

A Little Familiar

The Little Things

by Hope Madden

When you see a film whose plot synopsis exactly mirrors hundreds of other movies, it is the little things you have to look for to set it apart.

Writer/director John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things introduces plenty of those small details: a massive cross high in the Hollywood hills, a gun casing, a barrette, a radio station, a dog. Like the 1990s setting, though, they mostly amount to little more than understated flourish.

Hancock (who wrote and directed The Blind Side, but I will try not to hold that against him) introduces two cops. One, Deke (Denzel Washington, always a pleasure), is a Kern County sheriff’s deputy with bad blood back in LA. The other, Baxter (Rami Malek), is a climbing homicide detective hot shot in the big town.

When Deke is sent to the city to retrieve some evidence for a county case, Baxter inexplicably pulls him into a serial killer investigation, and there you have it: haunted veteran cop, ambitious newcomer, cold blooded killer (who may or may not be Jared Leto).

Again, that barebones description could be about 300 movies and TV series, including Netflix’s current true crime mini The Night Stalker (who is mentioned once during this film). How to elevate it?

Well, four Oscars among your three leads is a start. Perhaps that’s why this police procedural turns character study so quickly.

Washington’s worn out crime fighter offers a low key emotional center, which is a needed respite from the odd Baxter. Malek’s characterization of the by-the-books half of this duo is curiously manic, and Hancock spends frustratingly little time digging into Baxter’s motivation. Still, Malek and Washington offer quick chemistry that gives their scenes some depth.

Leto delivers a characteristically tic-heavy performance—perhaps also a tad overdone. Both he and Malek help generate a little energy with their accumulated weirdness, but it’s not enough to overcome the film’s general lack of momentum or purpose.

It doesn’t help that the color, period and low boil bring to mind two wildly superior Fincher efforts—Seven and, even more clearly, Zodiac. And however competently made (and it is) or impressively cast (obviously), The Little Things just can’t distinguish itself from the pack.

Digging in the Dirt

The Dig

by Hope Madden

Indiana Jones made archeology look thrilling and dangerous. Director Simon Stone’s The Dig makes it look positively British.

Back in 1938, as England sat on the precipice of WWII, an informally trained excavator named Basil Brown unearthed an ancient Saxon ship in a mound around back of the widowed Edith Pretty’s land. Journalist/novelist John Preston’s aunt Margaret Piggott was part of the larger archeological crew at Sutton Hoo that would mine the site for its cultural riches. Many years later, Preston would mine that story for a novel.

Refined and marked by the proper restraint of the English, Moira Buffini’s adaptation of the source material remains keenly interested in the difference between what we unearth and what we leave buried. Stone’s film shadows two romances and the emotions they choose to excavate as well as those they do not.

Brown and Pretty are played by Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, respectively. Fiennes finds a sweetly vulnerable center to Brown’s guarded stoicism. Meanwhile Mulligan reminds us again of her limitless range, playing essentially the opposite character of her bitingly brilliant Cassandra in Promising Young Woman.

Watching the gentle dance these two impressive talents engage in as their characters come to understand one another is hypnotic. There’s rarely an excuse to miss the opportunity to see either Mulligan or Fiennes act, and their delicate chemistry here is gorgeous.

Stone flavors his film and this relationship with notes of longing and melancholy that balance the overall theme of discovery. And then a sudden development—the arrival of Basil’s amiable and thoroughly loyal wife May (Monica Dolan, irresistible)—does more to sever their tale than complicate it.

This odd second act shift – just when we’ve really begun to invest in the primary relationship – turns Mulligan and Fiennes into supporting players in their own movie. Johnny Flynn and Lily James take it from here, he the attentive young RAF man in waiting and she the spunky archeologist/unsatisfied newlywed.

Both actors are solid, as is the entire and sizable ensemble of support, but the film feels out of sorts the moment the youngsters arrive.

It’s a lopsidedness The Dig never quite recovers from. Of course, had Mulligan and Fiennes not shone quite so brightly, it may not have been a problem at all.

Shooting Stars


by George Wolf

Sometimes, just watching two master actors at work is worth the price of admission. And though Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are not all that Supernova has in the win column, they are what keeps the film engaging throughout a fairly familiar narrative.

Firth is Sam and Tucci is Tusker, two longtime partners who have hit the road with their beloved dog, traveling across England in an old RV.

The two men have been in a committed, loving relationship for over twenty years. Now, after Tusker’s diagnosis of early onset dementia, they’re taking the time to catch up with cherished family and friends while they revisit some favorite spots from their past.

For his second feature, writer/director Harry Macqueen is on familiar ground as well, returning to some of the themes that drove Hinterland, his 2014 debut.

Like that film, Supernova becomes a road trip through wonderfully picturesque landscapes, as two souls appreciate the chance to share the beauty – and the heartbreak – that life brings.

But here, with older characters connected by more than just friendship, Macqueen adds a layer that is made beautifully resonant by the warm chemistry and fully formed characterizations of Tucci and Firth.

Every glance and subtle movement between them reflects the preciousness of the time that Sam and Tusker have left. And though its predictability has you wishing Supernova had something a bit more luminous to say, the two shooting stars in the lead are not to be missed.

Queen of Mean

The Queen of Black Magic

by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Kimo Stamboel resurrects 70s exploitation horror with The Queen of Black Magic. Not a remake or really a sequel or reboot of the Indonesian cult classic, Stamboel’s film is more inspired by its namesake.

Fun throwbacks to Liliek Sudjio’s original over the end credits do more to remind you how comparably tame this one is.

Not that it is without merit. Or gore.

Hanif (Ario Bayu) returns to the orphanage where he grew up. The man who raised him is dying, and now Hanif and his two childhood friends reunite, families in tow, having come home to pay their respects.

But bad things haunt the old orphanage.

Of course they do! What are you, new?!

Stamboel and writer Joko Anwar can’t come up with anything particularly new when deciding what, exactly, is the problem with this orphanage. But they populate their scenes of carnage with actors who generate some empathy, and put those actors into scenes that are pretty compelling. Especially if you have a thing about crawly creatures. Or a sensitive gag reflex.

Anwar is a master of conjuring nightmarish environments, complete with nightmare logic. His 2017 remake Satan’s Slave and his 2019 original Impetigore throw narrative logic aside in favor of a denseness of dread punctuated with unseemly carnage.

The Queen of Black Magic makes more narrative sense, but somehow that seems to flatten it out a little. It feels less magically horrific and unsettling as the films Anwar directs. But strong, dimensional performances elevate every scene.

And both filmmakers know gore. They know what sounds make you wince, what sights make you look away. Between that, the performances, and a tight enough screenplay to keep your interest, they’ve pieced together a tough little horror flick worth a genre fan’s time.  

Check Out Anytime You Like

The Night

by George Wolf

Come on, it’s been forty years, can’t we get a new haunted hotel flick without you screaming bloody redrum?

That’s fair, but what if the new take unveils a slow shower curtain reveal and turns to a golden oldie for creepy soundtrack effect?

Oh. Well then the film’s going to have to work even harder to avoid the dustbin of shameless Shining wannabees.

The Night does just that, and ultimately manages to find its own voice with a goosebump-inducing tale of a frantic family’s sleepless night away from home.

Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) are an Iranian couple living in the U.S. They have a new daughter, who is pretty well-behaved during their game night with some friends.

Neda’s not happy that Babak knocked back a few shots during the evening, so when the GPS starts acting crazy on the drive home and the baby is fussing, Neda suggests they find the nearest hotel and start fresh in the morning.

But from the moment the clerk at the Hotel Normandie (George Maguire – perfectly weird) greets Babak with tales of all the death he’s seen in his life, things ain’t right.

They get worse.

Director/co writer Kourosh Ahari proves adept at spooky atmospherics, with long, not-quite-Kubrick hallways around many turns and unsettling, not-exactly Serling paintings hanging about. Things go bump, voices carry and wandering souls appear, with Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) and Noor proving terrific vehicles for selling the scare.

Babek was hoping the booze would dull his toothache, but now he’s just exhausted from being kept awake by what he’s seeing…or just thinks he’s seeing. While Neda, increasingly desperate just to keep her child safe, begins to suspect the key to escaping may lie in revealing some long-held family secrets.

As a simple device with plenty of easy fright potential, the haunted house has served horror well for decades. But elevating it to a metaphor for something deeper is only as successful as the weakest pillar involved.

The Night shows strength all around, and by daybreak a pretty well-known blueprint builds to a satisfying reminder on the cost of deception.



by Brandon Thomas

One only needs a fleeting familiarity with social media, message boards and comment sections to know that the internet is a breeding ground for toxicity and abuse. Everyone becomes a target at one point or another. Young women, especially, can become the focal points for violent, disturbed predators who want only one thing: satisfaction through cruelty. 

Rosie (Sarah Rich) and her mother aren’t doing so well. It’s been one year since Rosie’s younger sister, Amelia (Samantha Nicole Dunn), died by suicide. The pain of the loss is made worse as Amelia was goaded into taking her own life by an online abuser. This abuser used his perverse coercion to worm its way into Amelia’s day-to-day life. Rosie’s depression and guilt morph into rage as she believes she’s uncovered the identity of the man responsible for Amelia’s death.

Like many of cinema’s greatest thrillers, #Like leans hard into discomfort. Director Sarah Pirozek pulls no punches when examining how young women are treated not only online, but in their every waking moment. The sexual adoration that men – young and old – direct toward women such as Rosie is shown for what it truly is – villainous and scary. Outside of being a damning portrait of male behavior, this also complicates Rosie’s search for the truth behind her sister’s death. How can she find the man responsible when so many are capable of this reprehensible behavior?

#Like isn’t all hard truths. There’s a throughline of ambiguity in the film that creates an ever-present sense of unease. The audience is sure Rosie has her man…until she doesn’t. Like the aforementioned online cruelty, Pirozek doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of Rosie’s anger. All good revenge movies grapple with the cost of vengeance, and this one is no exception.

Rosie is a great showcase for Sarah Rich. This is a character who is a ball of guilt, depression, rage and sadness – sometimes all within the same scene. Rosie should be your typical teenager, but the grief boiling inside of her won’t allow that. Rich plays Rosie’s loss of innocence as the film’s ultimate tragedy. 

On the other side, Marc Menchaca (Ozark, Alone) impresses as The Man (the only title given to this character), the focus of Rosie’s ire. Menchaca has the hardest role in that he can’t simply play The Man as a mustache-twirling villain without steamrolling the movie’s overall theme. Menchaca’s portrayal of The Man runs the gamut from suspicious to sympathetic. 

#Like could’ve easily gone for pure pulp and still have been a successful film. But by investing in theme, both storywise and through character beats, #Like manages to stand out by challenging the audience.

Burning Bright

The White Tiger

by Hope Madden

Rarely do we root for the social climber. Certainly not the social climber who intentionally harms others of his station, unabashedly sucks up to his masters, and disregards the family he left in poverty. But Ramin Bahrani’s sly thriller The White Tiger does a lot of things you might not expect.

His own adaptation of Aravind Agida’s prized novel, the film shadows a cunning young Indian man as he fights to rise from the abject poverty of his caste.

A deeply impressive Adarsh Gourav is Balram, entrepreneur. Bahrani opens the film as a mustachioed, suave-looking Bahrani tells us his “glorious tale” of overcoming poverty and becoming his own master. And as much as that story takes some unexpected turns, it’s the tone Bahrani develops that is especially audacious.

The White Tiger offers a blistering class consciousness that makes the filmmaker’s 2014 film 99 Homes feel positively cozy with the effects of capitalism.

Bahrani eviscerates India’s caste system along with a cinematic history of romanticizing the adoration and martyrdom of the Indian servant. He takes a not-so-subtle jab as well at dreamy redemption tales like Slumdog Millionaire.

Balram worms his way into the service of his master’s youngest son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), both back after years in America. Rao and Chopra represent a different and altogether more insidious look at class warfare—insidious because of its self-righteous and superficial beliefs in equality. Their performances are stellar and altogether slap-worthy.

Balram’s social climbing gets him only so far, and a sudden and violent shift in perspective leaves him fully aware of his own vulnerability.

Bahrani’s masterful direction makes the most of background to establish and reestablish Balram’s position and his thinking. And as utterly contemptuous as this film is concerning the wealthy and powerful, director and lead make you feel the depth and history involved in a servant’s culture of devotion.

‘Til the End

Our Friend

by George Wolf

We don’t tell the truth about dying.

Writer Matthew Teague came to that realization in 2012 when his wife Nicole died of cancer at the age of 34, leaving behind Matt, two daughters, and one very special best friend.

Five years later, Matt detailed their ordeal in an award-winning piece for Esquire magazine. Though it wasn’t Matt’s original intent, as the piece took shape it became clear his focus was Dane Faucheux, the friend who put his own life on hold to be there for Matt, Nicole and their girls.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby deliver Teague’s memoir to the screen with a tender focus on the daily details, and a stellar trio of leads delivering authentic, emotional performances.

Dakota Johnson has never been better as Nicole, bringing a heartbreaking sweetness to the journey into physical and mental decay before her character’s final breaths.

The quiet, committed stoicism that Matt fights to maintain is a natural vehicle for Casey Affleck, and he absorbs the role seamlessly. The Oscar-winning Affleck allows Matt’s hurt to register even in the lightly humorous moments, revealing a man caught between remaining strong and truly processing what the future will bring.

But much like in Teague’s original story, Dane is the soul of this film, thanks to Jason Segel’s warm and vulnerable performance. We see – even before Dane does – that his place in the Teague family has given his life the purpose he’s been craving. Segel never stoops to melodrama, and his scenes with the Teague girls (Isabella Kai and Violet McGraw, both terrific) sparkle with the charm of a man who has found peace within this family.

A wonderful cameo by the always-welcome Cherry Jones as a hospice nurse only cements the effectiveness of this cast, and of Cowperthwaite’s dramatic instincts.

The drawback here is the non-linear structure in Ingelsby’s (The Way Back, Out of the Furnace) script. Though you can see how the shifting timelines might fit a magazine article, on screen they keeps us at a distance, and prevent the trio’s backstory from truly taking root. The chapters in these lives are not equally important, each builds on the other to strengthen the human bonds. Our connection suffers with the re-set of each new time stamp.

Is this a tear-jerker? For sure, but Cowperthwaite (Blackfish, Megan Leavey) creates a mood that steers clear of sappy. That elusive truth of dying will always be uniquely intimate, and the way Cowperthwaite’s camera gently wanders away from characters and conversations provides a consistent reminder that the nature of grieving is that it’s often for the lives left behind.

Because this isn’t really a story about dying, it’s one about caring – caring about other people enough to care for them when it helps. As one family found out, there’s a true beauty in that, and Our Friend lets us glimpse it.