Being buried alive is a terrifying prospect; the idea of being conscious but unable to move or make contact with those outside of your claustrophobic prison is a deeply disturbing one. Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés exploits this universal fear competently in Buried, setting the entirety of the movie within the confines of a wooden box. Ryan Reynolds depicts the movie’s unfortunate victim well, which along with some creative camera work and crackerjack tension provides the project with a sense of vitality. Of course at 95 minutes the high concept is overstretched, but for the most part Buried is an effective and imaginative thriller.
The film opens in complete darkness, the screen engulfed with disorientated grumbles and total blackness. Eventually we come to find that Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) a contractor working in Iraq, has been captured and buried inside a coffin with only a few select items at his disposal. He has some glow sticks, a lighter, a knife, a hip flask with alcohol and most importantly a locally programmed mobile phone. After a few failed attempts to procure help from family, friends or the FBI, Paul is directed to hostage specialist Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) who insists that help is on the way. However his kidnappers also make contact through the phone, suggesting that if $5 million is not provided within a few hours Paul will be left to rot. As Paul tries to aid Brenner and fight off the natural dangers associated with his dire situation (lack of air, incoming sand and even snakes) he comes to terms with his own personal demons and fully comes to appreciate the frivolity of the war in Iraq.
Ryan Reynolds is marvellous in Buried, providing a performance that surely won’t go unnoticed during the 2011 awards season. The actor mixes terror, uncertainty and even slight winks of humour to concoct an engaging and well realized screen presence. The screenplay by Chris Sparling provides Reynolds with an affecting and dramatic character arc, but it’s the actor who really keeps the film stitched together. It’s a grounded and believable turn, subtly executed with skill and depth. Various voices are heard over the phone during the film’s duration but Cortés never leaves the coffin, resting the success of the project squarely on his leading man’s shoulders. It’s a testament to Reynolds that the movie works on any level at all, without a performance of such high calibre Buried would be a punishing experience.
The film starts glacially and very slowly reels the viewer in, the first 15 minutes used almost purely for expositional chat and as an opportunity for audiences to adjust to the tight setting. Buried is let down through some naff pacing choices, the film should clearly be closer to 75 minutes than the 95 the filmmakers drag it out for. The opening act is lethargic and the finale (despite being brave) is actually rather predictable. It’s the central hour that gives Buried its grandest instances of palm sweating suspense, Cortés devising a series of deathly scenarios for Paul to endure. The picture does a fine job of tapping into some of the most primal fears known to man, the climax which involves a race against a sea of sand evoking the scary prospect of drowning, whilst the inclusion of snakes and small spaces also allow the helmer to play with a variety of other common phobias. Buried definitely does enough to warrant recommendation as a moderately tense thriller, something aided by the visually interesting and inventive ways the camera is wielded within the confined coffin. From a technical viewpoint Buried is an efficiently made motion picture, occasionally frustrating due to its one dimensional setting, but always packing a lively sense of ambition.
Buried does a decent job of unearthing an emotional hook for audience’s to latch onto, and it does have a restrained yet valuable message concerning the war in Iraq. Buried doesn’t pile on its global or political opinions too heavily, instead the picture quietly mounts an undercurrent of disdain for the current situation in the Middle East. The picture is at times tedious but for the most part it succeeds as provocative entertainment, with several surprisingly weighty and touching scenes at its disposal. Essentially this movie is a gimmick, but at least it’s a gimmick with more to offer than just its high concept premise.
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Robert Paterson
Runtime: 95 min