By Marty Mulrooney
Buried is a thriller film directed by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés. It stars Ryan Reynolds (Just Friends, The Proposal) as a US truck driver in Iraq who wakes up buried alive in a wooden coffin, a mobile phone his only salvation.
Set entirely within this wooden coffin, both director and star gracefully interact to convey not only intense claustrophobia, but a relentless narrative both thrilling and heart-pounding. The camerawork and lighting are phenomenal, darkness certainly relied on at times but never used as a cheap disguise. This is a beautiful, dirtily shot film that will pull viewers deep down into the leading man’s grim situation beneath the dirt and won’t let go.
Ryan Reynolds as buried US truck driver Paul Conroy is a huge surprise. Known mostly for his work in romantic comedies and paired here with a largely unknown director, he offers an authentically reserved performance that consistently rings true. The entire film centres around this performance and I shudder to think who else could have attempted the same role and screwed it up. As a one man show, Buried may well be the 2010 equivalent of 2009’s Moon starring Sam Rockwell. In short, although the premise of Buried is horrific, it is a pleasure watching Reynolds flex his acting chops in new ways as he tries to escape his forced confinement.
The action never leaves the wooden coffin that serves as the film’s only location. Almost like a radio drama, phone calls can be heard but only Reynolds is shown, the result a deep seeded feeling of isolation and loneliness fitting for the situation yet unsettling nonetheless. Reynolds’ prior comedic work comes to the fore at just the right times. Although by no means a humorous film, several wise cracks hit their mark and lighten the mood generously, if only briefly. It takes great skill to act such moments without coming across as phoney but Reynolds dots great little character quips throughout, bringing the script and the movie to life.
The plot itself is difficult to discuss without spoilers but works very well within such a confined space. There are enough twists and turns to keep the audience gripped without wandering too far into the realms of implausibility or impossibility. A gradually deceasing phone battery adds to the idea of a ticking clock, alongside Paul Conroy’s dust-caked watch face. Simple acts such as turning around in the coffin or trying to plug a hole leaking sand all add further to an atmosphere that can be at times become practically unbearable. An initial flurry of phone calls near the start of the film is a prime example: it proves both infuriating and hilarious to hear a clueless female acquaintance explain how she was just about go shopping and doesn’t have time to help, or an FBI agent ask for Conroy’s national insurance number in a monotone drawl.
A Zippo lighter. A phone backlight. A glow stick. Illumination is sparse in Buried but the clever use of light sources being juggled throughout helps to keep the visuals diverse. During one moment in particular, the camera pans out as if the cramped wooded prison stretches infinitely upwards: a darkly beautiful, ironic moment. Music is seldom used but when it does feature, it helps to dial the tension up an extra notch, especially when combined with close-up shots of Reynolds’ bloodied, desperate face.
Some moments work better than others. A momentary intrusion into the coffin later on works rather well, if not a little predictably, yet a last minute scene of gore feels forced and unnecessary. The darkness surrounding the coffin throughout is far more horrific than anything the filmmakers could show us: the most effective moments convey Paul Conroy panicking, alone. Buying into his situation offers an experience that thrills but may not stand up to repeat viewings.
As I left the cinema my eyes took time to adjust, the ending still fresh in my mind. I sincerely hope that Ryan Reynolds continues to push himself in new directions, because he is like an actor reborn here. Not everything shown works 100%, but for a high concept indie film, Buried manages to dig itself above the majority of the competition. Exhilarating, Hitchcockian entertainment.
9 OUT OF 10