Bunker Woman

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"You're lucky to be here at all. And my generosity only extends so far."
We've all seen it before: a female character is abducted and held against her will underground—usually inside a bunker or Torture Cellar. This trope is pervasive and sinister, appearing across genres in everything from comedy to horror, drama, thriller and science fiction. While this trope is fairly specific, it has a large number of variants; for instance, the woman need not necessarily be trapped in a bunker—anything inescapable underground does the trick.

In addition, a man need not necessarily be but is usually the sole trapping force of the Bunker Woman; the trapping man may have a Survivalist Stash or just be Crazy-Prepared for The End of the World as We Know It, either way he likely considers the Bunker Woman an object to be collected for future use. Occasionally, the man considers himself the savior of the Bunker Woman. Lastly, while this trope is generally tied closely to the major narrative of a work of fiction, it also sometimes appears in passing within TV and film.

Compare Stuffed into the Fridge and Damsel in Distress, in which the woman plays a peripheral role inciting a male lead to action. In contrast, the Bunker Woman is usually the main character, and it is her struggle as she attempts to escape her captor that twistedly entertains.

Bunker Woman is distinct from Madwoman in the Attic, for here the captive is generally not unfit for society and is a more or less ordinary person who just happens to have been kidnapped. While both are Prison Tropes, Madwoman in the Attic is about making a female character that cannot be sympathized with, while Bunker Woman—despite being anti-feminist—often features powerful female characters.

It is to be noted that while men (especially young men or boys) are occasionally abducted and held underground by other men, there are almost no examples of men being trapped underground by women.

Sub-Trope of Women Are Delicate.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • In Death Note, Sayu is held hostage by Mello and his gang in exchange for the Death Note. She is kept in a basement, far from her home in Japan, bound and gagged. Although she is physically unharmed, the entire ordeal leaves her basically in an Angst Coma when she returns to Japan, and her family moves out to the countryside, so they can live in a house that better accommodates her wheelchair. At the end of the manga, she is getting better, though.

    Comic Books 
  • Silk was kept in a bunker for about a decade in order to keep her safe from people who wanted her dead.
  • The issue of Outsiders that introduces Owlman has him rescuing a little girl from a basement.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Don't Breathe features a young woman held captive beneath a house in a padded room. An escalation of the trope occurs when the first Bunker Woman is freed (and ultimately killed), the film's villain captures a second woman and keeps her in his underground prison.
  • Five-time Academy Award winner The Silence of the Lambs; serial killer Buffalo Bill abducts young women and keeps them in a well in the basement of his home. The women cannot escape, and are forced to lotion themselves before being brutally murdered and skinned. Clarice Starling, a detective in the film, discovers the bunker of Buffalo Bill at the end of the movie.
  • 2015 best picture nominee Room - One of the most emotionally complete films to represent this trope, Room features a woman and her young son's attempt to make a good life for themselves in captivity, and, ultimately, to escape their captor and start their lives anew.
  • The Lovely Bones - A young girl is lured into a bunker and killed, the remainder of the film constitutes her family and friends coming to terms with her horrific death.
  • The Call - A young woman is abducted, and taken to a underground bunker by a repeat serial killer. The lead, played by Halle Berry, is a 911 dispatcher who received a call from the abducted girl and pursues her to the killer's bunker, where Berry battles him, saving the young woman from certain death underground.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane - An innovation in the Bunker Woman genre, 10 Cloverfield Lane features a woman bunkered by a Crazy-Prepared man. The lead woman is unsure as to whether it's The End of the World as We Know It and she has been saved or if she is merely a classic Bunker Woman. Horror ensues as she plots, persistently and inventively, to escape her oppressive captor.
  • V for Vendetta - Natalie Portman's character is attacked, but rescued by a strange man. She awakes underground in this mysterious mans bunker and informed that she cannot leave. While her rescuer/captor is not explicitly violent towards her, she is trapped underground against her will all the same.
  • 2015 Best Picture nominee Mad Max: Fury Road centers around women escaping from a prison-like manor. The escaped women proclaim that they are not things, but are subsequently hunted as objects to be reclaimed.
  • 2016's Blair Witch features a woman who is pushed into a mine shaft and is forced to crawl through a small tunnel.
  • In 2005's "feminist" horror sensation The Descent, many women are trapped underground and are forced to fight (mostly male) zombie creatures. This instance certainly qualifies for the trope, for women are being held against their will underground.
  • In 2009's The Road, women held underground are discovered briefly. The women are members of a group of individuals who are being held in a bunker by cannibals. When the main character discovers these Bunker Women, he is shocked, but ultimately powerless to save them and he quickly leaves them behind.
  • Batman fights a human trafficker who has a basement full of terrified women in the beginning of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice .
  • The Hole has two girls and two boys trapped against their will in a literal bunker with hints that it's deliberate. It is a gender-reversed case where one of the girls engineered the situation to trap the boy she likes.
  • Split features three girls who are abducted and trapped underground by a mentally ill man with multiple personalities.
  • Ex Machina has an artificially intelligent robot woman trapped in an underground fortress—the threat of her death is imminent and she must connive her own escape.
    • A bit of a twist in this case, as unlike most examples on this page, she was not kidnapped- she was built within the bunker and has never been outside of it. Additionally, there are a few implications that her escape at the end may not be a good thing.
  • Cabin by the Lake: A horror movie writer becomes a serial killer when he starts kidnapping young women and keeping them in a locked room inside his cabin. After watching their terror for a few days, he ties them to a concrete block and drowns them in the adjacent lake.

    Literature 
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rita Skeeter suspects Professor Dumbledore, the popular Headmaster of Hogwarts, was compliant in letting his sister be locked in the cellar throughout her childhood until she eventually killed her mother in retaliation. These accusations plague Dumbledore's reputation throughout the book.
  • Joe Pickett: In Endangered, Liv is captured and held captive in an old root cellar by the Cates clan. They later plan to drown her by filling the cellar with sewage.
  • Judas Child by Carol O'Connell has a little girl being held captive by a serial child murderer, and being helped by another little girl who is actually the killer's previous victim, and may have been her imaginary friend or an actual ghost.
  • In Further Tales of the City, Mrs. Madrigal traps one of Mary Ann's coworkers in her basement. In this case, she has a good reason - Mary Ann has discovered that Jim Jones is still alive, but he has taken two children hostage and has threatened to kill them if Mary Ann exposes him, while her coworker has found out about this and is planning to break the story herself.
  • Anna Pigeon: In The Rope, Anna is imprisoned for a portion of the novel at the bottom of a natural pit in one of the canyons. This being Anna, she manages to escape.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt features four women who are freed from being held captive in a bunker. Kimmy Schmidt's life in the bunker is dramatized, highlighting the ridiculous prevalence of this trope today. Additionally, Kimmy Schmidt is not smitten by her life in the bunker, and thus this example can be considered a subversion of the Bunker Woman trope.
  • Pretty Little Liars:
    • In the fifth season finale, Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer are captured and held in a large underground structure, where they find Mona, who had been missing and presumed dead since midseason. At first they're forced to play along in a mock high school prom, but when they use that to try to escape, they're separated and subjected to mind games/mental torture for weeks before they escape/are rescued. During the rescue, it turns out there was yet another girl in the bunker, who had been missing for two and a half years.
    • It happens again to Hanna after she tells A-moji that she killed Charlotte; she's held underground and tortured, and her friends are told that if they don't hand over Charlotte's real killer, she'll be killed. She escapes on her own, but not before her friends implicate Alison, who turns out to be innocent, as Charlotte's killer.
    • Alison claims this is what happened to her for the two years she was missing, even identifying the man who was her captor. (The truth is she was simply in hiding after nearly being killed.)
  • Stranger Things - A young girl known as Eleven is held in an underground facility; Eleven is first seen after having escaped from her bunker prison.
  • In Dollhouse, Ballard thinks this is the secret of the titular facility, that the Dollhouse kidnaps young men and women and forces them into some sort of human-trafficking ring. The truth is more complicated than that.
  • The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "911" has Benson desperately trying to locate a little girl who is being kept in an unknown basement somewhere in the city by a child pornographer.
    • Its hundredth episode, "Control", featured a man who for years had been kidnapping various women and imprisoning them in a basement for varying intervals, forcing them to be a Sex Slave to him, to the point of making them go through a fake wedding, complete with dress.
  • An NCIS episode had the team finding the body of a woman imprisoned like this. Even creepier, she was clad in a wedding gown, while the bunker was decked out like a typical 1950s household. The search for the killer was juxtaposed with scenes of another woman being held the same way.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: In "Hide and Seek", Maura is kidnapped and shackled to a pipe inside an abandoned insane asylum.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has the Puppetmaster, a mysterious force which kidnaps Fire Nation citizens, which lures its victims into the mountains and prevents them from leaving. It's really an escaped prisoner of war who traps her victims in a bunker out of a blanket hatred for any Fire National.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • In Season 1, Korra is kidnapped by a male villain, locked in a van and trapped in a basement in a mountain. She manages to make her captor think she's unconscious and escape.
    • The season 3 finale sees Arc Villain Zaheer and his lackeys hold a main character hostage in an ancient catacomb with a sinister purpose. It's Korra again, and they're holding her until they can use mercury poisoning to not only kill her, but prevent her reincarnation.
  • One episode of Family Guy has Stewie kidnapping the head cheerleader so that Meg can take her place on the cheerleading squad.
  • A rare female on female example on One Life to Live, when Viki (or rather, one of her alternate personalities) imprisoned Dorian in a secret room beneath her mansion.

    Real Life 
  • Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian woman who was held in a basement from 1998 to 2006. She wrote a book about it, 3,096 Days, which was adapted into a movie.
  • Elisabeth Fritzl: Austrian also, from 1984 to 2008. This is the infamous case of Parental Incest that produced seven children. It is this case specifically that inspired the Room book.
  • Jaycee Dugard: California, 1991 to 2009. She is the one that had two daughters by her captor and wrote A Stolen Life: A Memoir about her captivity.
  • Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, all discovered in 2013 in Ohio, but kidnapped at different points between 2002 and 2004. Amanda Berry had a daughter by their captor. The memoirs written about it are Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: a Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings by Michelle and Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda and Gina.
  • Serial Killer Gary Heidnik kidnapped approximately 6 women and imprisoned them in his basement, wanting his own personal harem. Aside from keeping them chained together, he threatened to harm the others should one try to escape, killing at least two who did. One finally escaped after currying enough favor with him to convince him to release her in the belief that she was going to acquire another woman for him. Instead, she went straight to the police. FYI, Heidnik is one of the inspirations for the "Buffalo Bill" character from the "Lambs" example cited in "Film".
  • In 2003, John Jamelske was arrested after it was found that for five years, he'd been kidnapping various women and holding them prisoner in his basement. He is the basis for the "SVU" episode cited in the TV section.
  • On December 28, 1992, 9-year-old Katie Beers was kidnapped by a friend of the family and held prisoner for 17 days in a cell beneath his garage that he had built for this explicit purpose.

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