Imagine I told you about a film that focused on a single actor buried alive inside a coffin for over 90 minutes as he fought to stay alive with just a lighter, a cell phone, and a few other items MacGyver might struggle to find useful. You might wonder if that film could really keep your interest. Luckily, Rodrigo Cortes’ Buried will not only keep your interest, but floor you with tension and intrigue, ultimately making your heart race as if you were in the shoes of Paul Conroy (a brilliant Ryan Reynolds) as he fights to stay alive. This dead simple premise is an excellent example of how precise execution can elevate a film far beyond the confines of the wooden box the film takes place in. Join me after the break for my full review of Conroy’s struggle for survival.
We open with Paul Conroy, a civilian truck driver working in Iraq, already buried alive, with very little recollection of what has happened. As he manages to untangle himself from the bindings on his hands and mouth, he realizes that his cries for help are largely unanswered and he resorts to an alternative method. However, what seems like a simple solution of just calling from his cell phone turns into a maddening experiment of patience as the only people he can get a hold of are in the U.S., far away from him. The ever vigilant Conroy never gives up though, but what he uncovers is a twisted reality that shakes him to his very core. The more he digs up, the deeper his hole gets, and before he knows it his limited oxygen isn’t the only danger he has to overcome.
Providing the guidance to make this compressed study of loneliness is director Rodrigo Cortes, who shows an uncanny ability to transport the audience from the theater to the coffin with Conroy. Small budget films seem to be increasingly common, but when they are executed as well as Buried, you will forget that factoid 15 minutes in. This isn’t “found-footage” or handheld camera work that makes some viewers want to hurl. Professionally shot, lit, and fully realized, this film didn’t crimp on the budget, but when your film takes place inside a single coffin for over 90 minutes, you save some green. However, despite the close quarters, the excellent script by Chris Sparling manages to reach far beyond our main characters actions on the screen. In an ever-increasing world of electronics, how close are we to those we love? Is it a solution or a buffer between real, quality interactions? That is just one of the various themes that Sparling plays on, which could leave you dazed as you watch the credits roll.
Perhaps even better than the story is the camera work on Buried, which has to be nominated for something. The brilliant editing by Cortes coupled with the impossible shots from cinematographer Eduard Grau sell the illusion incredibly well. There is a scene in which the camera spins 360 degrees inside the coffin that is mind-boggling, and there are several pull-away views that will make you gasp. Additionally, the light source for most of the film is Conroy’s cell phone or lighter, which results in making the claustrophobic elements particularly cringe-worthy. How they managed to shoot the film must have been a lesson all its own in patience and perseverance, especially for Ryan Reynolds.
Let’s be honest; if you had to stare at someone for over 90 minutes, Reynolds isn’t a bad choice. The fact that the man can act incredibly well is a blessing that Cortes and crew exploit to the fullest extent. Reynolds does his own action, which includes pounding on the coffin walls and a jaw-dropping maneuver within the coffin itself; contortionist isn’t in Reynolds’ bio, but we might want to add it after this film. The other key component to Reynolds’ performance is his brilliant comedic quality. Buried is tightly wound, but they provide gasps of comic relief that likely keeps the audience from having panic attacks. Additionally, Conroy is not made out to be a perfect little angel that we root for because he is so sympathetic. He has flaws and has obviously infuriated some of those close to him. He snaps and has a quick temper, but whether that is a result of being, you know, buried alive isn’t completely explored; we are definitely left with the notion that this isn’t new territory for him, though.
All of these things combine in Buried for an incredibly unique experience unlike anything you have seen before. Sure you have heard that line before, but when was the last time you watched a film that focused on a single person, for over 90 minutes, within the sole confines of a coffin. Hell, when was the last time you watched anything that focused on a single person for over 90 minutes, no matter the confines. Add to the unique experience a tragically potent script, acting that goes beyond selling the gimmick, and production qualities fit for a wizard, and we have Buried, one of the must-see films of 2010.
Final score: A