Spain (dir. Rodrigo Cortés)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ivana Miño, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, Jose Luis Garcia-Perez, Warner Loughlin, Robert Paterson, Diane Farr
Synopsis: Paul Conroy is not ready to die. But when he wakes up 6 feet underground with no idea of who put him there or why, life for the truck driver and family man instantly becomes a hellish struggle for survival. Buried with only a cell phone and a lighter, his contact with the outside world and ability to piece together clues that could help him discover his location are maddeningly limited. Poor reception, a rapidly draining battery, and a dwindling oxygen supply become his worst enemies in a tightly confined race against time- fighting panic, despair and delirium, Paul has only 90 minutes to be rescued before his worst nightmare comes true.
Review: Maybe you don’t feel the same way, but the thought of spending 90 minutes watching Ryan Reynolds stuck in a coffin wasn’t exactly a very appealing notion when I first heard about “Buried”. I mean, let’s face it, he’s not exactly the most appealing genre actor (dare I conjure up the name of a certain remake called “The Amityville Horror”?) However, when I started hearing about how Hitchcock-ian the film was, I decided, meh, might as well give it a shot… and I’m glad I did! Not only is “Buried” incredibly intense, but the film itself is well made, and the ability for Reynolds to capture my interest and hold it for a good length of time is truly a testament to his incredible performance. Honestly, who knew that the confines of a coffin could prove to be such fertile ground for an effective and engaging horror-thriller?
With a film like “Buried”, less is definitely more. Without any solid background information on our main (and really, only) character, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds in everyman mode), and all the action taking place within the coffin with no flashbacks whatsoever, the audience is exposed to little else than Conroy trapped in the coffin, trying to get out. And this set-up works, because we feel as just as confused, isolated and disoriented as Conroy. Since the only light available to our hero includes a faulty flashlight and two glow-sticks, a lot of the film just takes place in absolute darkness, giving that claustrophobic feeling you might experience while watching the film a hell of a lot more of an edge. In terms of dialogue, there are thankfully no sappy inner monologues or “how did I get here?” internal conversations. Instead, Conroy’s dialogue in the film is limited to his conversations with the people he manages to contact on the cellphone (provided by his kidnapper) that he has inside the coffin. And naturally, since our main character isn’t particularly happy about his situation, he mouths off to virtually everyone he calls for help (except for, of course, his family, who he tragically has trouble getting in contact with) and drops the F-bomb a fantastic number of times – including a nice little “fuck you very much” to a very unhelpful woman.
So yes, though the set-up of the film is basically Reynolds stuck in a coffin calling people for help on a cellphone with a slowly dying battery, there is a lot more than you’d think for our main character to have to deal with. First off, there’s the obvious psychological trauma as Conroy comes to realize the hopelessness of his absolutely dire situation. There’s the dying cellphone, as mentioned (though I must admit, the fact that his damn Blackberry gets reception underground and has a battery that lasts through several lengthy international phone calls is pretty impressive), a sand leak, harassing/threatening phone calls from the terrorist who kidnapped him, lack of food and water, and, oh yeah, a motherfucking snake. So although it may seem like a very boring film when you consider what it limits itself to, it is in actuality, a very tense, very tight film. One would think they’d have quite enough of it after a good 90 minute run, but I would have been more than pleased if it had kept chugging along past the 90 0r 100 minute mark, because it is, quite simply, a superbly engrossing film.
Despite the limitations of filming the events occurring within the confines of a small box, every scene is surprising well shot. We get different lighting styles throughout the film (red, yellow, green, etc.), so visually, you aren’t ever really bored. There are different camera angles, not just the typical (and not very claustrophobia-inducing) shot from above. And none of the camerawork feels like a cheat (i.e. it doesn’t ever feel like the coffin is massive in order to allow for more room for the camera to pan around). Really, the cinematography is wonderful, conveying a sense of confinement and despair in such an organic way. Even a scene in which Conroy has a sort of hallucinatory moment, and the camera zooms upward in a seemingly infinite manner, conveys all the emotions our character is certainly experiencing at the time.
Unfortunately the film has its minor drawbacks. For one, the “Iraqi” terrorist sounds a lot like an extra from “Machete”, and for some reason someone thought that assaulting the audience with loud, overbearing music was necessary during dramatic scenes like when Conroy sets the snake on fire or whenever the terrorist gets mad at him. And did anyone else notice that the cellphone only seems to ring at the most wildly inopportune moments (again, when Conroy sets the snake on fire)? The tone of the film is kind of killed when all of a sudden we are berated with loud noises, a ringing phone, and music turned up to 11.
On the positive side of things, the film successfully builds the right amount of tension up until the very end (which gladly, is not a cop-out) – and that’s something that a lot of films simply cannot or do not, do. While the film is mainly intended to take aim at America’s military industrial complex, there’s a sense that this film is also about our meaninglessness in the greater scheme of things and the sad truth that in war, human lives are expendable and in business, human lives are mere commodities or liabilities. Maybe it was the fact that so much of the film was primarily dialogue based and took place in pitch black darkness, but I had a sense that “Buried” could even work wonderfully as a “Twilight Zone” teleplay, even more so if the film had a supernatural element. Would this film have made Hitchcock proud? Well it just might have. Just don’t show him any of Reynolds previous work, because he certainly ain’t no Cary Grant or James Stewart.
P.S. Love the “Vertigo” style movie poster too!