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Closed Circle
"The term 'Closed circle' is a mystery term. It refers to a situation where contact with the outside world has been severed... This is where the setting is truly allowed to shine. The culprit and other characters are unable to escape the [closed circle]. At the same time, there won't be any new characters from the outside."

This is a stock plot designed to force the characters or players to stay in a location and get involved in the adventure... and not be able to leave until it's done.

The variations on this set up are nearly limitless, and can work in pretty much any and every genre or setting. The classic set up though is as follows: The heroes are driving along, when all of a sudden what should happen but an inconvenient flat tire. Unfortunately, the spare is flat too, the rain is coming down, and of course it's also thundering. There's no choice but to stay at the Haunted Castle until the weather clears. Lo and behold, the Mad Scientist living there has just reached the critical phase in his breakthrough in bio-chemical research, and of course something goes horribly wrong and the undead Venus flytrap gets loose and starts picking them off one by one. The heroes are now locked in and can't leave, have to solve the mystery to find the demonic plant's one weakness (hint: it ain't water) and hopefully survive long enough to leave.

This plot bears similarities to You All Meet in an Inn, coupled with a Broken Bridge, and usually beginning as a Deadly Road Trip. Some genres like the Zombie Apocalypse can't get enough of it; Night of the Living Dead and its various spinoffs, remakes, and homages all use it, as do most monster and many Horror films. They'll even up the drama by picking them off one by one until only The Aloner is left to fight for their life. The screenwriting book Save the Cat calls the premise Monster in the House, and points out that the story falls flat if the protagonist could just cheerfully catch a bus out of danger.

Think it's been around long enough to be a Discredited or Dead Horse Trope? Nah, it's more like an archetype, a versatile tool used to stick your characters in one spot and force them to deal with the danger. The heroes can be space cops, vacationers on a beach trip, or FBI investigators. They can be trapped by a ghost, simple mechanical troubles, a man in a mask, or an eccentric billionaire. To get out they might need to solve a mystery, survive a serial killer, repair their car, or just wait out the rain. Like we said, the variations are limitless.

There are the following ways to go about this:
  1. The location, normally connected to the rest of the world, is made inescapable.
  2. Orientation is difficult and any attempt to leave will end with Going in Circles. Usually nightfall or bad weather is making it even more difficult. Maps, phones, GPS etc. have been lost or destroyed, or never existed in the first place. The characters are too glad to have one certain point on the horizon (even if it is the Haunted House) to risk wandering off and get hopelessly lost. In some cases this may be due to magic or space warps.
  3. If the characters arrived by vehicle, circumstances will prevent them from using that same vehicle to leave.
    • The vehicle is inoperable. (The car has a flat tire, the motorbike has no gas, or the spaceship's warp drive is on the fritz). The characters must find a way to repair it before they can escape.
    • The vehicle has been destroyed. A replacement must be found, stolen, or built. Typical Deserted Island scenario.
    • The vehicle is on a schedule, has already departed, and will not return for a certain amount of time. The characters do not realize the danger until after their ride leaves. In this case, their objective is to survive for the set amount of time until the [ferry to the mainland/chartered flight/evac chopper/etc.] arrives.
    • The vehicle IS the dangerous, inescapable setting. See Thriller on the Express, Death in the Clouds.
  4. The characters are under a compulsion to stay, either by their own will or because something else forces them to remain.

This is the driving force behind many Let's You and Him Fight scenarios: Why would this group of incongruous heroes and/or villains fight that other group of incongruous heroes and/or villains? Because some wizard/super-scientist/Eldritch Abomination stuck them in a pocket dimension! Trying to get out is impossible because there are either no exits or because they're all locked in such ways that would be impossible to open by the group(s). The only way to open the Closed Circle is a fight to the death! Needless to say, most times, they either find a way out that was NOT accounted for, or just take out the ringmaster of the whole debacle.

Thanks to Technology Marches On, an increasingly unavoidable bit of Fridge Logic crops up in modern works regarding why the characters don't just call the police/mountain rescue/the Ghostbusters on their mobile phones. Hence the nigh-omnipresent Necessary Weasel that is Cell Phones Are Useless.

Subtropes include Trapped in Another World and Escape from the Crazy Place. A common such plot is Die Hard on an X. In a Video Game may be enforced by a Bottomless Pit, Broken Bridge, Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence, Invisible Walls, Locked Doors, or a Point of No Return. A good excuse for a Bottle Episode. In a Tabletop RPG, this is a Railroading technique. See also Enclosed Space, Gateless Ghetto. The "Groundhog Day" Loop could be considered a temporal version of this.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Island mystery in Suzumiya Haruhi, Lampshaded. Itsuki even uses what might be the common name for describing it: a Closed Circle. Ultimately, it turns out to have been an invoked trope.
    • In the novels they later get in a similar situation while going on a ski resort. Turns out this one isn't intentionally done, and it took practically all of Nagato's powers and some basic knowledge in graph theory for them to escape.
  • The conclusion of Suzumiya Haruhi Season 1 is effectively a closed circle invocation as well, the circle being delimited by the dimensions of Haruhi's "closed space", and the time available to escape being delimited by how effectively the Celestials can stomp about. It is an interesting reduction of the trope to its simplest arrangement. There are only two people in the closed space, one of whom is the hero (Kyon), and one of them the unknowing monster (Haruhi), but only Kyon recognizes what is going on. Kyon has to figure out the "mystery" of how to escape the trap. The two ghostly intrusions (Nagato and Koizumi) are allowable in that their fates are also tied to the resolution so are arguably closed in as well, and they don't give Kyon any new information (they basically remind him of what they had previously told him).
  • Roughly a quarter of Detective Conan stories, rising to half for multiparters. For example, Episode 52 has one of these where the main characters get a flat tire and have to stay at a spooky temple where a murder takes place. At least the episode explains that it's a second flat tire, so they can't just use the spare. Though apparently there's no equivalent of AAA in Japan.
  • In Digimon Adventure, Myotismon creates a fog barrier that turns people around when they try to escape the city.
  • Hell Girl had an episode in which a writer and his daughter are trapped in an old asylum.
  • Ruhenheim in Monster is a particularly grand-scale case of the horror take on this trope.
  • Busou Renkin: Doktor Butterfly's Alice In Wonderland does this in its dispersed form, trapping the students in the school so that the Revised Humanoid Homunculi can feed on them.
  • Uzumaki is set in a town where anyone entering by sea has their boat destroyed by hurricanes, all paths out on foot spiral back to the town, and in the end the boundaries of the closed circle shrink to nothing. Rapidly.
  • The Flying Pussyfoot in Baccano!
    • Also the case of the Advena Avis two hundred years prior.
  • Kirisaki Island in Tantei Gakuen Q leaves classes Q and A stormbound on said island. There is a serial killer involved. Fifty years ago, and the rest is Dan screwing with Class Q.
  • Liar Game frequently invokes this trope by setting its various challenges in secluded locations. Rarely are the players physically prohibited from leaving, but only winners can truly "escape" by paying half their winnings to the tournament committee; the rest end up in crushing debt.
  • If you are chosen by the titular Gantz, try to exit a set area before the time limit and Your Head Asplode. Everybody else is free to move through the area as they please, but the scenario is always set so they can affect nothing.
  • Happens Once an Episode in Mononoke, since the Medicine Peddler always seals off the area to protect its inhabitants and prevent the mononoke escaping. Moreover, two episodes took place in a boat out at sea and a moving train carriage.

    Comic Books 
  • The protagonists of Elks Run happen to live in their Closed Circle. Their town was built to be isolated from the rest of society, with the only way out being a tunnel through the mountains that could easily be blocked off during an emergency. Police investigation of a Vigilante Execution qualifies as an emergency to those who participated in said execution, no matter how much the rest of the cast wants to get out of town.

    Film 
  • Dog Soldiers: The house is surrounded by werewolves and their vehicle is damaged.
  • In The Evil Dead they can't leave the cabin because the bridge is out and the trees are all rapey. Also, a curse is turning them into Deadites.
  • Phil Connors, Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, not only experiences a "Groundhog Day" Loop but is perpetually stuck in Punxsutawney due to a blizzard blocking the roads.
  • "Manos" The Hands of Fate: Once the family arrive at the hotel, Torgo tells them "There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here." Michael decides it would be a good idea to stay the night. This is the least of his problems. Or the audience's for that matter.
  • Pitch Black just loved this trope. First, their starship crashes on a mysterious planet. They go to retrieve power cells so they can leave in a smaller, functional ship. The car they're using is solar powered, and seemed ideal on a planet with three suns, but as luck would have it, they have a solar eclipse, which releases the monsters that are harmed by light. As monsters pick off each of the characters, and they continuously lose light sources, the remaining characters are trapped in a cave, with Riddick holding the only working flashlight.
  • The Truman Show is a massive set for a reality show with only one real person, Truman Burbank, with the creators deliberately Railroading ways so Truman could spend his entire life in the fictitious Seahaven set. Or that was the idea at least...
  • Horror movie Identity traps a handful of protagonists in a motel by way of a major storm. Moving in any direction away from the motel will bring you back to the motel.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. With only a few very minor variations, it precisely fits the classic version of car breaks down in the rain, protagonists are stuck in a spooky castle. Though this is only natural considering that it's a parody of (among many other things) exactly those kinds of stories.
  • In the british chiller The Hole they can't leave the titular bunker because the leading lady has the key and won't open that door until the guy she is infatuated with will start to like her. The twist? The other three people with her don't know it.
  • In Clue the butler locks all the characters up in a remote house in order to confront a blackmailer; later, when the blackmailer is murdered, the doors remain locked lest the killer escape. And if anyone does leave before they find the killer, they will say the one running is the killer.
  • In House on Haunted Hill (1959), Vincent Price's character locks several characters in his mansion with the promise of a large cash reward for staying the night. It was all a convoluted plot to expose his wife's affair and to kill her and her lover.
    • Also the remake, which has this among its many Double Subversions. This time the Price character is a mogul famous for parlaying his animatronic genius into into a thrill-ride empire, so everyone expects elaborately staged technological wizardry from him, and though everyone suspects he's behind locking them all in, they can't pass up the million he offers to remain there — at least until it's too late to say Screw This, I'm Outta Here!.
  • The 2007 Spanish film Fermat's Room has the main characters trapped in a locked room by the villain, with Advancing Walls Of Doom to make things more interesting.
  • The eponymous contraptions of the Cube movies are these. The protagonists are doomed to roam around a maze of cuboid rooms until they can figure out its particular structure and escape. Or not.
  • Protagonists of House of the Dead can't leave the island because zombies are swimming in the surrounding waters. Same thing happens later when they barricade themselves into the titular shack.
  • In the Slasher Movie Terror Train, a murderer is onboard the titular vehicle and due to the winter, nobody can get off. They just have sit in and wait for the next station.
  • Part of the initiation ritual in Hell Night entails being locked up inside an abandoned manor. Unfortunately, there's also a killer loose.
  • In Prison, nobody gets out because, well you know. Additionally, there's a supernatural force that won't let them.
  • The eponymous villain in Psycho Cop Returns locks the protagonists up with him inside the office building they are partying in.
  • Alien is one of the more famous examples: the reason the characters can't leave is because the "haunted house" is a spaceship. Many other movies have copied this idea.
  • All Saw movies.
  • Quarantine is set in a quarantined apartment building. Enforced, in that one character attempts to escape and is promptly killed by a sniper.
  • The entire point of The Breakfast Club is that none of the characters would even speak to each other if they hadn't been forced to stay alone with each other for the day.
  • Played out on a large scale in Tremors. Yes, the monster's stomping ground is a great big valley, but it's a great big valley that no one can leave because the monsters can outrun them.
  • Pleasantville is physically isolated—it's surrounded by mountains on all sides, and all of the roads circle back in towards the city. No one is ever seen entering or leaving the town either. This all changes by the end, though, when the teenagers who got sucked into the TV reality open up the worldview of Pleasantville's inhabitants, and there is now at least one road leading out of the town.
  • The 1930 Laurel and Hardy short "The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case" ended up having all the relatives of a recently deceased millionaire - including our two heroes - forcibly detained by a police detective in a mansion. Said detective believes one of them is the murderer and keeps them there until he finds the guilty party. One frantic character even attempts to escape out a window, but is stopped as everyone else is warned that cops are surrounding the mansion to prevent escape.
  • In the Sharon Stone thriller Scissors, her character (Angie) spends most of the movie trapped in a show home.
  • In Rear Window, L.B. Jeffries is confined to his apartment with a multiple leg fracture.
  • In The Blair Witch Project, the main characters become lost in the woods while filming a documentary about the Blair Witch. Efforts to reorient themselves fail, even things like following a river or walking in one direction until they're out.
  • In Jumanji anyone who rolls the dice of the titular board game becomes a player. Once four players are chosen those specific people must finish the game in order for all the horror it unleashes to be undone.
  • In The Legacy 1979, protagonists Maggie and Pete try to leave the Ravenhurst mansion after the other guests start dying, only to find that all the roads lead back to the mansion.
  • Pro Wrestlers Vs Zombies uses the setting of the penitentiary where they were performing the event to justify the wrestlers having difficulty escaping. Their cell phones were confiscated before entering under the auspices of security.
  • Flightplan: Set aboard a plane, so there's only so many places a missing daughter could be hidden.
  • Non-Stop: Also set on a plane, as an air marshal searches for a killer among the passengers.
  • The Killing Room (2009): Four subjects are locked in a room for a psychological experiment. They're then told only one can get out alive. The film also covers the man running the experiment and a new recruit for the program. They never leave the premises, and it's implied that if the new recruit does try to walk out before the experiment runs its course, she'll be killed.
  • The Haunting Of Whaley House: The ghosts lock all of the doors, making the doorknobs hot to the touch, and drain the cell phones. And an attempt to break the windows leads to the character attempting getting impaled with his own chair.
  • Though nods to this are seen throughout the anthology, about 75 percent of the run-time of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is set on a cruise ship that is out to sea, making it the straightest example of this trope in the series.
  • In Coherence, a group of eight is bound to stay at a house because due to a time/space anomaly any attempt to leave the place will just cause the characters to reemerge at the same house in an alternate reality.

    Literature 
  • The Invisible Host: human agency.
  • Some of Matthew Reilly's works have this. Contest, Ice Station, Area 7, Army of Thieves...one would think he uses this trope so as to help concentrate the explosions and other demolition. The protagonist of his short story "The Dead Prince" invokes this trope so as to prevent the culprit from getting away.
  • In Pyramids, once the gigantic pyramid is completed, its incredible amount of Pyramid Power almost completely severs Djelibeybi from world, trapping its inhabitants with ALL of its gods. Since several of the gods often were responsible for the same thing, Hilarity Ensues as the gods duke it out for control over things like the sun.
  • Anthony Boucher's The Case of the Seven Sneezes
  • Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians: Bad weather and sabotaged communications.
    • Even better: Murder on the Orient Express (1934). The entire murder investigation goes on while the titular train has been immobilized due to a snowstorm. The idea that the killer or killers could have escaped away is quickly shot down, by establishing that an attempt to escape on foot would be suicidal.
  • Arthur Clarke's short Breaking Strain: the realities of interplanetary navigation.
  • Cyril Hare's An English Murder: heavy snow.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers' The Nine Tailors: A car accident keeps Lord Peter in Fenchurch St. Paul during the New Year peal at the beginning of the story, and a flood traps him there for the endgame. In between he is not trapped, however, just at those critical times.
  • Ellery Queen's The Siamese Twin Mystery: A forest fire traps the cast.
  • Several interesting examples in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. Cecilia is a city which has swallowed the world, Trude cannot be left because it is all cities and Penthesilia consists only of outskirts, leaving Marco Polo uncertain as to whether or not he can ever be not in the outskirts of that city.
  • Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game: a man is shipwrecked on a remote island, with only an Ax-Crazy hunter for company.
  • Christopher Manson's MAZE has two. The first is a network of menacing rooms that lead you around in circles with only one way out. The second is where you end up when you take that one way out.
  • Dead Mountaineer's Hotel: The characters are in a hotel in a snowy valley, and an avalanche locks them from the outside world for at least a couple of days.
  • In Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted: A Novel, the cast of characters trap themselves in an isolated theater, each unwilling to leave until they're able to present themselves as the hero of the resulting news stories and Ripped from the Headlines movie.
  • Michael Crichton loved this trope. Seriously, pick nearly any one of his books.
  • The Maze Runner features a place called The Glade. A bunch of teenagers are trapped in it with no memory of their lives before they woke up there. The doors open at dawn and close at dusk, but only lead to a giant maze with no exit. Better yet, the maze changes every night while the doors are closed. Oh, and if you're in the maze at night, giant metal monsters attack you.
    • The sequel, The Scorch Trials, starts with yet another closed circle.
  • The Hunger Games. Twenty-four tributes are forced to fight to the death in an arena surrounded by force fields and natural boundaries like mountains and lakes. The Gamemakers can even instantaneously alter the arena to make it smaller and smaller as the games progress, thereby increasing the drama for the audiences both in- and out-of-universe.
  • Battle Royale takes place in a purposely vacated, remote island. Moreover, the students are equipped with radio transmitters that will explode if they somehow do manage to leave the confines of the island, forcing them to compete in the titular Battle. Moreover, as the "game" goes on, more and more zones of the island are made off limits, tightening the circle.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Even when the Nautilus travels around the whole world, The Professor Aronnax, Battle Butler Conseil and Idiot Hero Ned Land are confined to the submarine. They only talk with Captain Nemo (all the other crew talk a secret language).
  • In Krabat, you can't run away from the mill - the master (an evil wizard) will prevent it. Even suicide won't work.
  • Project NRI has the Niege Research Institute, where all the characters are trapped in.
  • In The Dresden Files, literal circles are used to contain magic (so that you can put together a spell without the magical equivalent of interference), or cut it off from its source. Magical creatures can't cross these circles, so if there are ravenous things outside the circle, you're stuck inside.
    • A more pertinent example would be the circle/pentagram trap used on the Archive by the Denarians. They couldn't leave because of these telephone-pole sized pillars of fire boxing them in, and there was a finite amount of magic inside the circle. Fortunately, the Denarians couldn't hold it for very long because it was very energy intensive.
  • Septimus Heap:
    • In Magyk, Draggen Island is the Closed Circle, preventing Silas from returning and also DomDaniel from arriving.
    • Syren island in Syren.
    • The Heaps' room in Darke.
  • This happens in several books of Galaxy of Fear. It takes place on a number of different planets, and the very first book ended with their ride being destroyed. Although they were rescued by the crew of the Millennium Falcon, they were dropped off on another world to make their way from there right in the next book. In many other books, if the ship they picked up in the second one isn't damaged in some way, they have another reason they can't just leave.
  • The novel, Severance Package, takes place mostly on one floor of an office building. It's revealed that the financial services firm the main character works for is really a cover branch for the CIA, and they're being shut down - the hard way. The people are given a choice: drink poisoned mimosas for a peaceful death, or be shot in the back of the head. The elevators have been disabled and the exit doors rigged with gas so no one can leave. Then the real fun begins ...
  • The Other House and garden in Coraline. If you walk too far, you find yourself coming back to the house again, and only Coraline herself and the cat can leave.

    LARP 
  • A very significant percentage of all theater-style Live-Action Role-Play games have some version of this trope. Otherwise, players being true to their characters might very well leave the game area.

     Live-Action TV  
  • American Horror Story: Murder House, anyone who dies in the house has their ghost become trapped in the house for all eternity. An example is shown when Violet attempts to leave the house, only to come through the back door, again and again.
  • Being Human, In the US remake, Sally is unable to leave the house at the beginning, describing the outside as just "dropping off". However, she eventually learns to leave the property and venture outside. In the UK version, Annie is always able to leave the house, but usually chooses not to.
  • Gilligan's Island, so much so that people ask why they don't Just Eat Gilligan.
  • LOST, which starts with the survivors of a plane crash. Then in season five, most of the ones who left the island returned.
  • This trope, which means that Ted has to put up Bishop Brennan, who is frightened of rabbits, whilst the parochial house is infested with rabbits, is bizarrely parodied in an episode of Father Ted:
    Mrs. Doyle: I've got some bad news Your Grace - I just heard on the radio that they've taken the roads in.
    Bishop Brennan: They've "taken the roads in"?
    Ted: Yes. They roll them up when it gets too stormy and store up in a big warehouse on the North side of the island so they don't get damaged.
  • Common in Stargate SG-1 back in its early years, since the Stargate is the only way off of a planet and it's plausible that the team's access to it would be blocked.
    • Even more common in Stargate Universe. The castaways have no control over Destiny's course or how long it lingers in a star system; they're just along for the ride.
  • Used in at least one episode of The Twilight Zone, "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" They don't find out the true identity of the titular Martian - or if there even is one - before they finally leave the circle to their doom.
  • Used in one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Dawn wishes to a Vengeance Demon that everyone would stop leaving her (really, she has abandonment issues, and for a very good reason, her father left them when she was 9, her mother's dead, her sister died for a few months, came back and then ignored her, the people who have been taking care of her split up, one of them leaving and it just keeps getting worse throughout the show. They end up trapped in the house. With a demon.
  • This is the premise of the Doctor Who episode "Midnight", in which the Doctor and a bunch of tourists are trapped in a train car with a mysterious and probably malevolent alien.
    • Actually, it seems almost every other episode of the new series the TARDIS is lost, stolen or thought to be destroyed, only to turn up once the plot's been resolved.
      • Happens a lot in the original series, as well, to the point that "small group of people trapped in a base, being killed of by a monster/monsters" is pretty much the standard Who plot. Hell, in the second serial The Daleks, the Doctor fakes this scenario by deliberately sabotaging the TARDIS so he can explore Skaro. This backfires when the Daleks steal the piece he took from the TARDIS, making this a real Closed Circle scenario.
    • In one particular Rory/Amy era episode, there's two closed circles. One is entirely within the Tardis (though the other eschews it, for one traditionally nebulous reason or another). Only the antagnoist has control over travel between the two. Oh, and one of them is imaginary, apparently. What's real is a feature of the eventually resolved plot twist(s), of course.
  • In an episode of Sanctuary, the characters were trapped because of a severe snowstorm which was delaying the rescue team from arriving.
  • A Bottle Episode of Scrubs is set up when JD offhandedly wonders if a patient may have SARS. The hospital is automatically locked down and quarantined until the events of the episode are over and the hospital is declared safe.
  • A couple of episodes of The West Wing. Lampshaded in "Holy Night," the fourth-season Christmas Episode in which everybody is waiting for it to stop snowing so they can leave the White House.
    Leo: Dr. Keyworth, Dulles and International are both closed.
    Stanley: Ah.
    Leo: You mind being our guest for a little while?
    Stanley: Thank you.
    President Bartlet: And now we're one-third of the way through an Agatha Christie story. [leans forward] "Won't nobody be goin' nowhere. The bridge is warshed out." [awkward pause] Well, I'm finished. But I was doing the guy that says that in the Agatha Christie stories.
  • The Leverage episode "The Ten Little Grifters Job" - whose title is also an Agatha Christie homage - plays with this trope.
  • The Village Head in Saengchori controls who comes and goes in Once Upon a Time in Saengchori.
  • 666 Park Avenue: Gavin traps a traitorous associate in an endless hallway with no way out until he cracks and confesses.
  • Built into the DNA of Sapphire And Steel; it occurs in every serial. It was handwaved in various ways, generally along the lines of "Time won't let us leave", and contributed to the series' sense of unsettling claustrophobia.
  • In Once Upon a Time, the Dark Curse keeps the inhabitants of Storybrooke from leaving the city and keeps (most) visitors away. Even after the Curse is broken, those who cross the city's boundary lose all memory of their fairy tale selves.
  • In Helix, several factors conspire to keep the CDC rapid response team at Research, Inc. Arctic Biosystems during their investigation of an outbreak of The Virus. It's CDC protocol to achieve full containment of a pathogen before leaving, the helicopters that transported them can't stay, due to the Hostile Weather's ability to coagulate fuel, and satellite communication to the outside world, though instantaneous, is only active for an hour a day. Then the satellite is sabotaged directly after the CDC's lead researcher decides he's lost control of the situation and states that he intends to call for backup.
  • Orange Is The New Black for the most part takes place in a women's prison.
  • Lost Tapes: most settings in various episodes are some variation of this, with the characters ending up in an isolated or enclosed area that they can't easily get out of, such as the North American wilderness, an Australian rainforest, an old house, the Gobi Desert, a condemned boarding house, and a sewer.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Played for Laughs in Get Fuzzy, whenever Bucky tries to pretend he didn't do whatever thing he did. Rob is always quick to realize that there are only three of them in the apartment, and he and Satchel can be accounted for.
    Rob: (as Satchel freaks out over a broken piggy bank) Well, it's only you and me and Bucky in this place. And since you and I didn't do it...
    Satchel: This is no time for riddles, Rob! If you know something, then for the love of food, out with it!

    Role Playing Games 
  • Ruby Quest is set in a big underwater facility with no escape.
  • The entire point (at least initially) of Escape from Ironheart is to, well, escape from Ironheart, a massive, supposedly inescapable prison.
  • Almost all dramatic Journal Roleplay games take place in closed circles, forcing characters to stay where they otherwise wouldn't (unless a player drops). This is so prevalent that this type of game has earned the name "spooky jamjar".

    Tabletop Games 
This is a classic game master technique for getting players to stick around for a while and follow the plot.

  • In Betrayal at House on the Hill, the players always start in front of the main door, but can't just turn around and leave. You have to explore, triggering Omens, until the Haunt starts, at which point you may be able to escape... if the scenario lets you.
  • In a Ravenloft campaign, a DM can use the Mists to keep players from straying from a certain area (ie, players go into the Mists and emerge in the same place), but doing so is a cheap trick.
    • Some individual locations within the setting are Closed Circles by their very nature, as with Baron Evensong's one-room study/prison.
  • A Pyramid article on unusual artifacts included the Enigma Van. While it could resemble any mode of transport suitable for the setting (from Conundrum Carriage to Secret Starship), the key points were that it was attracted to mysteries, and once it found one it would break down until the mystery was solved. An obvious Deconstruction of the Mystery Machine.
  • This is sort of assumed in many Call of Cthulhu games, since anyone retaining 2 SAN would want to keep far away from the scary things players encounter. But if the players don't go investigate the horrors, there's no game.

    Theatre 
  • Used for the basic premise of Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, in which the characters are confined to a mansion due to both an inmate from the local asylum being loose and a relative's will stating that they forfeit their inheritance if they leave.
  • Also the premise of The Mousetrap.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit plays with this trope. The characters are only locked in by their own flaws and mediocrity.

    Video Games 
  • Alone In The Dark 1992 The main character can't leave the mansion Derceto as the door mysteriously slams as soon as s/he enters. And if you try to open it, you get eaten by what looks like a giant Man-Eating Plant.
  • The makers of Bioshock went on record to explain why Rapture is a city at the bottom of the ocean and not, say, a hideout in Colorado: to justify this trope. Otherwise, the player character could simply find a plane or just walk out into the wilderness to get away from the freaks in an open air environment. In Rapture, you are stuck down there until you finish the job. Which hides the real reason you are down there obeying orders.
  • System Shock and its sequel both strand you in deep space.
    • In the original, you are on a space station and are kept well away from the escape pods.
    • In System Shock 2, you are stranded out in deep space after the ship is attacked and the warp drive breaks down. This is bad enough, but it is made worse as it is the only warp drive in existence.
  • Used in all of the Chzo Mythos.
    • Five Days a Stranger, the house itself won't let you leave.
    • Seven Days a Skeptic, you're on a spaceship. Help is coming in 7 days and the escape pods aren't an option.
    • Trilby's Notes is slightly subtler, and some players may not even notice, but you try walk away from the hotel entrance, you'll simply reappear at the the other side.
    • 6 Days a Sacrifice, you are trapped in an underground bunker and the accesses to the surface are inoperable/blocked.
  • Dead Space invokes this pretty early on, by having the shuttle you crash landed in explode in your face when you go back to try and repair it.
    • Likewise Dead Space 2, except this time it's not just the Necromorphs impeding your escape.
  • In EarthBound, you're stuck in Threed until you're done getting rid of the zombie invasion. Various other techniques stick you in a small area: the blocked road that keeps you in your neighborhood until you investigate the meteor that fell during the night, the traffic jam in the desert... oh, and for the final showdown, you teleport to a place you can't return from.
  • In most of the Grand Theft Auto games the town you're in seems to have no entrance roads, i.e. a Gateless Ghetto, or they're blocked by Insurmountable Waist Height Fences. And to add to that, the district you start in is isolated from the rest of the city at the beginning of the game, either by Broken Bridge or Border Patrol.
  • In inFAMOUS, Empire City has been quarantined following the explosion because of a spreading plague. And the military isn't kidding; an early mission is a blatant escape attempt only to watch quite a few NPCs mowed down by a wall of machine guns at an exit point. Later on, gangbangers put hostages out for display on boats so the Navy won't sink them as they leave for open waters. The player makes sure it doesn't come to that, but Mission Control assures him the gangbangers are wrong. Also happens on a smaller scale like Grand Theft Auto above; the routes into different boroughs are closed until the plot opens them.
    • Prototype does something similar. The main character can't swim, and the only other route out of the city is heavily guarded by the military, and impossible to break through without getting killed.
  • Metroid Prime II. Samus arrives on a planet in response to a distress call or otherwise, but her ship gets damaged, forcing a crash landing. Throughout the game, the ship is the process of gradually repairing itself while Samus is out and about on her adventure, and if you periodically return to the ship, you can even scan it and get a reading on how far the repairs have progressed.
  • Resident Evil
    • In the first game, the your character and his/her team were attacked by mutated dogs and chased into the mansion. If you attempt to open the front door, one will jump in to attack you.
    • Resident Evil 2 starts with Leon and Claire fighting to escape the zombie-infested streets and get to the police station. Once they get there, the rest of the game is them trying to figure out how to escape.
    • In Resident Evil 4, even after rescuing The President's Daughter, the bridge to get out of town is out and a helicopter before Mike sent to pick you up apparently got shot down.
  • Silent Hill
    • Used numerous times in the series. In the first game Harry Mason crashes his jeep after trying to dodge Alessa, who appears out of nowhere on the road. Later on in the game you can find the truck, but no vehicle including his truck works. Nor can he climb up the cliff he crashed down, and most of the town's exiting roads have giant gaping pits straight to hell.
    • In the second game, for most of the game you can backtrack to James' still working car parked in a freeway rest stop and theoretically leave, but you can't because then the game would be over.
    • The third game has a combo of case 1 and 3. At the beginning Heather goes into a slightly dark version of the mall populated by monsters by crawling out of a women's bathroom window and entering another section of a mall, but refuses to go back that way even when faced with monsters because the "creepy PI" is outside the bathroom door. In fact the long walk out of the bathroom to the other entrance of the mall, framed by the setting sun, is perhaps the only time direct sunlight seen in the series, and the alley is very appropriately blocked off by a van that leaves no space for the driver to enter or leave. Still, leaving through the women's restroom after meeting the first monster would probably still lead back to the Dark World. Interestingly, even after killing a boss and returning to the "real world" (quotations are used since it's still populated by flesh rending monsters) both she and the PI can't find any other real people but each other and two crazy cultists. Oh, and monsters, corpses, and monster corpses.
    • The fourth game actually does this three different ways, Henry starts off locked in his own apartment, then he discovers a way to travel to different locations - only to find that, due to locked doors, blocked exits, and enclosing fences, these areas are inescapable, too. Finally, he manages to break free of his apartment, only to find that it's been a part of the Dark World all along.
      • There's also a fourth example as part of a puzzle. Holding a specific item in his inventory in the forest will cause the pathway back to loop forever, so Henry must find a way to get it from point A to point B without carrying it.
    • Lampshaded in Silent Hill Origins in a late cutscene when Dr. Kaufman asks Travis why he hasn't left yet if he hates the place so much, and Travis snaps back with an irritated "I can't".
    • Finally justified in Silent Hill: Downpour: The town won't let you leave-when Murphy gets Dangerously Genre Savvy and tries to hotwire a speedboat, the owner outright tells him that the town has "rules", and gets pissed if you break them. When Murphy ignores him, a horde of Screamers assault him and drive him away from the boat, plus all the giant fences that wall off explorable areas.
  • The World Ends with You; You're stuck in Shibuya whether you like it or not. Unlike most RPGs where the first town you visit is usually blown to pieces.
  • In the original Phantasy Star, a guard forbids Alis from leaving the first town, although she can simply leave through another exit.
  • In Phantasy Star Online, the people of Pioneer 2 are attempting to colonize the planet Ragol. However, colonization efforts are halted due to a mysterious explosion that cuts off all contact with the scientists already planetside, and can't proceed until the cause of the explosion and the fate of the scientists can be ascertained.
  • Colonel's Bequest and its sequel Laura Bow & The Dagger of Amon Ra both have closed circles. Though part two lets you wander about the city a bit before hand before locking the door. Both also have a Serial Killer walking about though only the first one is a psycho the other one is merely a man who would've gotten away with it if Laura hadn't been there that night.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the characters are given a buggy needed to cross the obligatory knee-deep creek in their way to the next area. After crossing the creek, the buggy breaks down — right in front of the town where the player needs to go. Once the quest inside that town is finished, the buggy is conveniently fixed, allowing them to cross the other obligatory knee-deep creek.
    • If you went to the town first, thus not breaking the buggy, an NPC still offers to fix it for you. An odd oversight, as the town is easily spotted and the player is just as likely to go straight there.
  • In Devil Survivor, everyone is caught in the Tokyo Lockdown — nobody can get out of the Yamanote Circle, and has to deal with the demons, loss of electricity, limited supplies, and all the nasty human factors that come into play as the lockdown wears on.
  • You can leave the dungeon in NetHack - but then the game calls you a coward and ends. You're actually supposed to leave once you have the Amulet of Yendor, but when you do, you step into the Astral Plane and head on up.
  • In the original Rogue, the stairs only work one way until you get the Amulet of Yendor.
  • In Ancient Domains of Mystery, you leave the Drakalor Chain (by going to the same part of the road where you arrived), but this permanently ends the game. Ideally you should do it after you finish the game's main goal. You can freely exit most of the dungeons and get back to the main map, provided you can survive the return trip. With the exception of the lowest levels of the Caverns of Chaos once you've broken the elemental lock. After that, you can only go onward, to glory or death (or quitting, but where's the fun in that?)
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum has Joker take over the Arkham island, trapping Batman inside and forcing him to confront some of his major arch-enemies and a lot of henchmen. By the mid-point of the game, Batman displays that he could have left Arkham any time he felt like it, but refuses to do so until he gets the island back under control.
    • While Batman himself could in theory leave whenever he likes, this is not true of other characters - at one point Commissioner Gordon leaves via speedboat, only to be promptly recaptured by Joker's men.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Intentionally invoked by the contracting client in the 'Whodunit?' quest for the Dark Brotherhood. The same client also awards a performance bonus for carrying the trope out to its murder mystery conclusion.
  • Kingdom Hearts starts because the characters feel this way. They live on a series of islands and feel like there's nothing to do, so they build a raft to see the world. Chain of Memories plays it straight. A narrow pathway leads to Castle Oblivion. There's nothing but an empty field in the opposite direction. To top it off, Marluxia appears and hints to Sora that Riku is there.
  • Scratches not only uses this trope, it makes it your fault that you're trapped because you let your car's battery run down. Guess there aren't any cab services in rural England.
  • One of the main story quests in Dragon Age: Origins sends the Player Character into a Circle of Magi tower full of abominations with the purpose of clearing out the creatures (and slaughtering any surviving mages, if the player is feeling cruel). There is only one exit out of the tower and the door is locked behind the Warden when he/she enters. Incidentally, the name of the quest is "Broken Circle."
    • The Golems of Amgarrak DLC also features this trope, as Jerrik and the Warden are unable to leave the thaig until the Harvester is defeated.
  • In the original Bard's Tale, the magic of the evil wizard Mangar has placed the area surrounding Skara Brae under perpetual winter conditions, making it impossible for the heroes to leave town for the entire game.
  • In Shivers, the player is locked in the museum grounds on a dare. In addition, once the player enters the museum, there is no way out.
  • You are stuck in the eponymous town of Anchorhead. Your car broke down and has been towed away to the city of Arkham, and your purse and phone are in it. The only phone you can find doesn't work; the road out of town leads into wilderness. In addition, as Croseus's power over him grows, your husband outright refuses to leave, and you're determined not to go without him.
  • In Dead Island, military patrol boats surround the island and apparently shoot down any vehicle trying to pass by regardless of intention. This is an attempt to keep the zombie experimentation as under wraps as possible via Leave No Witnesses.
  • In Penumbra Philip is forced to stay in the abandoned mine, first because of a blizzard outside, then because of a lack of accessible exits.
  • Probably the only Survival Horror game in history to avert this is Clock Tower: The First Fear. At any point in the game, you can go to the garage, take the car keys, and drive away. You can get two endings this way: One has Jennifer escape only to be found dead in her room 3 days later, the other has Scissorman rise out of the back seat as she's driving.
  • In chapter 4 of Space Pirates and Zombies you can't leave a system unless you kill lots of zombie bases or ships.
  • Played with in Luigi's Mansion - At first, the front door is locked, but by the time Luigi finds the key, he's found evidence that Mario's probably somewhere in the mansion and therefore has no motivation to leave.
  • All Sumio Mondo needs to do at Lospass Island in Flower, Sun and Rain is stay one day at the hotel and then leave to disarm a bomb at the airport. Except there's a time loop that resets every time he fails, and first he has to solve a puzzle to leave his room, then open the stairwell, then unblock the lobby entrance...
  • Yamatai Island in Tomb Raider (2013) is one. Storms pop up out of nowhere to destroy any transport that gets near the island (Along with any transport built or salvaged by the people on the island who try to leave), so the survivors of the Endurance are stuck there until Lara can figure out why and stop it.
  • In many levels of Eternal Darkness, you can go to the main entrance and examine it, which will give you the reason why the current character can not or will not leave. For example, Paul Luther is framed for a murder and running away would be an admission of guilt, and Edwin Lindsey stays in the temple because nobody gets the better of Dr. Lindsey! Even if that someone is an undead horror. The exceptions are Ellia who gets locked in by a Ghost Butler, and all the forbidden city levels (Pious, Karim, Roberto and Michael), as the forbidden city has no obvious exit.
  • Ephemeral Fantasia combines this with "Groundhog Day" Loop. The game takes place on an island where time resets back to Monday at midnight on Friday, and the next ferry won't arrive until Saturday morning. Thus, only by ending the loop can one leave the island.
  • The Matrix Path Of Neo this is what happens when an Agent/the System 'seals' off an area in the Matrix. You can't leave until you've gotten rid of the Agents, or it's subverted in that you sometimes find a way out that they forgot to block off.

    Visual Novel 
  • Dangan Ronpa: Monobear has covered all of the doors and windows in the academy with steel bulkheads. The only way to escape? Kill one of your classmates, then successfully cover up the crime.
    • Super Dangan Ronpa 2 has everyone trapped on an island, and in one scene, everyone's trapped in the same building on an island.
  • The characters of Umineko no Naku Koro ni joke about how being trapped on a remote island in a storm feels like an old-fashioned murder mystery — right before the corpses start stacking up.
  • Infinity series:
    • Ever17 revolves around a group of people trapped in an underwater theme park.
    • Remember11 involves two Closed Circle groups. Kokoro, Lin, Yomogi, and Yuni are trapped in a mountain cabin due to bad weather, and Satoru, Utsumi, Hotoru, and Yuni are at the SPHIA psychiatric hospital, which is located on a remote island.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and its sequel Virtue's Last Reward are set on a cruise liner designed to flood after nine hours, and at an Abandoned Warehouse respectively, both converted to house a series of Deadly Games intentionally designed to test the limits of group mentality.

    Web Comics 
  • Mitadake Saga has an automatic lockdown triggered by the death of a teacher. This leaves the students trapped with a murderer. Who just so happens to be one of them...
  • Goro of The Dragon Doctors had to fend off four thieves assaulting a hospital. The first attempt at doing so, activating an ice barrier around the hospital, accidentally locked the thieves in the hospital with her.
  • The entirety of Problem Sleuth takes place inside a cruelly labyrinthine office building. The main characters spend all 1600+ pages solving its puzzles both in the building and in their imaginary worlds.

    Web Original 
  • The entire premise of Heta Oni is that a group of nations are locked in a mansion, with one (or several) bizarre monsters trying to kill them. The situation is inverted later, when the remaining nations find out what's going on and try to come to help out. They reach the mansion grounds, only to find that they can't get inside and must settle for fighting any monsters that wander out.

    Western Animation 
  • Most episodes of Scooby-Doo and similar series start this way.
  • Beast Wars has 5-7 Maximals fighting 5-7 Predacons at Pre-historic Earth. Both factions' spaceships were totaled after the initial crash landing and the massive amount of energon radiation ensured that they could not communicate with any possible rescue parties.
    • They do get the chance to get back several times, but the attempt is foiled each time. For example, the Maximals on Cybertron start sending out transwarp probes all over space and time, looking for Optimus Primal. One of these happens to show up in orbit of prehistoric Earth. The Maximals start building a communication array to contact the probe, but Megatron finds out and has the array destroyed, not willing to go to prison again. Another time, a transwarp wave is sent out from Earth and is intercepted by the Tri-Predacus Council (the rulers of the Predacons). They send a Predacon agent to find Megatron and arrest him but disrupt the wave before it reaches the Maximals. When the agent, a former Decepticon named Ravage, arrives, his ship seems like a way off Earth. it is destroyed at the end of the episode.


Chilly ReceptionBeginning TropesCold Open
Callousness Towards EmergencyContrived Stupidity TropesClutching Hand Trap
Childhood Brain DamageStupidity TropesContrived Stupidity Tropes
Chronic Evidence Retention SyndromeMystery TropesClueless Mystery
Clip ShowPlotsCode Silver
Brown NoteCosmic Horror StoryThe Dark Times

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