The three teenagers in the tiny Damascene apartment huddle around a flip phone. But it's not Facebook or Snapchat on the screen –they're trying to find out where the bombs falling outside their apartment are landing. Director Phillippe Van Leeuw]s latest effort takes a focused look at an everyday family trying to survive in a warzone over the span of a day.

The family's matriarch, Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) must temper her own curiosity over whatever's on her children's cellphone — her own husband, a medic, is out there somewhere—with the need to keep all nine people in the household calm. In this climate, that means keeping their collective fears to a low hum. Like a military captain, she orders the kids into the kitchen, their de facto bomb shelter, when the sounds get too close. And she doesn't overlook the details either, reprimanding her teen daughter (Ninar Hilabi) when she uses the family's scarce water to shave her legs.

All of the little moments — taking a micro look at the people while leaving any discussion of the politics for another time — recall another recent wartime film: Dunkirk. Of course, the scale is different. Christopher Nolan's film takes to the skies and the sea, while In Syria's, original titled Insyriated, set is so tight, it could easily be envisioned as a stage production. But the sort of low-dialogue, could-be-anyone (Nolan didn't even name his characters) focus on human survival looms large over both films. In Syria's action all takes place inside a tiny one-family apartment. All the other tenants have left, but Oum firmly refuses. “No one is going to die,” she says. “Look at me. I was born without a home. This is my home.” It’s the one string of backstory we get.

But when a couple of snipers break in, Oum's strength is really tested. She's let the young couple from across the hall stay with her family, and when the neighbor woman goes to fetch her baby from an adjacent room, she's locked out of the kitchen bunker, just as the thugs reach the apartment. It's one of many impossible moral quandaries the film proposes: Should Oum save the woman, even though that might put the rest of the family at risk? Or is it best to protect the majority?

Since we're confined to a few rooms for the film's entire 85 minutes, what's left to explore is the inner turmoil of those trapped inside. Van Leeuw focuses mainly on the three adult women: matriarch Oum; 20-something nursing mother Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud), who’s waiting anxiously for her husband to return so they can flee to Lebanon with the baby; and housemaid Delhani (Juliette Navis), who has some information about Halima's husband but is sworn to secrecy by Oum.

Keeping the husband';s fate from Halima is one of Oum's choices that audiences will be divided over. But there's no denying Oum means well – her protective gene is just in fight-or-flight mode. If In Syria has any refrain it's “What do you do when protecting one person means putting others at risk?”

This anxiety of a constant threat of death is not often brought to a Western audience. In that regard, In Syria is a success. It's a masterclass in mood – from the lowly lit interiors to the low energy with which the kids past the time: painting nails, braiding hair, all while waiting for a relief that might not come.

As a bigger story, however, In Syria doesn't offer much fodder. Dunkirk was short on dialogue and context, too, but there was a definite sense of rising tension (the lead character over and over again nearly reaching safety only to find another barrier). And the emotional payoff is there:  The sense of hope from seeing the British civilian ships come to rescue the soldiers is one of the best cinematic images of 2016. And then this grandiosity is put back in its rightful place by the boys' sense of failure on their train ride home. Without saying much at all, Nolan's lead character exudes disillusionment with the pomp and circumstance. There's a full range of emotions.

In Syria takes place in current times and can't have a tidy conclusion. Fair enough. But it can have emotional resonance or, hell, a message, right? If there's a message to be gleaned it's that life for the average Syrian is, in fact, pretty damn scary. But you'd expect given the close quarters to get more inside their heads – and we just don't. This is a film about individuals, but we never get to know them. I think it was OK to ignore the political context, but without more focus on individual motives, fears, and desires, the only character that got well fleshed out is the place … the apartment.

This is Van Leeuw's second foray out of cinematography and into writing and directing. With In Syria, it's safe to say he's caught the mood, he's caught the claustrophobia, but maybe next time he's also catch the people.