Consider me surprised by, and impressed with, Rodrigo Cortes’s man-in-a-box, one set thriller Buried, which features Ryan Reynolds as an American truck driver taken hostage after his delivery convoy was ambushed in Iraq. After being knocked out he wakes up six feet below the sand with a cell phone, a lighter, a couple of glow sticks, a pencil and a second-rate flash light. Things aren’t looking good for Paul and your best bet of getting the absolute full experience with this film is in a theater equipped with the best sound system you can find. Reynolds lays on the heavy breathing as the creaking of his pine box casket and the scratch of the sand sets the mood.
Immediately Buried is rather unsettling. Reynolds, playing Paul Conroy, writhes around, unsure of his situation in a shroud of darkness. He snaps to life his lighter and instantly the impact of his labored breathing and the oxygen required to keep the flame alive weighs on your mind. How deep beneath the surface is he? How much oxygen does he have? Will he ever stop breathing so hard?
As he gets his hands free and the gag removed from his mouth, a cell phone rings. Bouncing between the yellow glow from the flame of his Zippo lighter and the blue light emanating from the LCD screen of his Blackberry, the rest of Paul’s world is pitch black and Cortes never lets go of his tight grip.
Conroy gets in touch with the people holding him captive, the company he works for, his wife, 911 back in the States and finally reassuring words from local officials, but will help arrive in time?
Buried is absolute ballsy filmmaking, but ballsy only to the extent Cortes and Reynolds had to have known they had something solid to work with thanks to Chris Sparling’s script, a script that undoubtedly earned Sparling the job writing Reincarnate, the next film in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Night Chronicles” series that started with the recently released Devil. Sparling found a way to tap into the hearts of the audience emotionally and politically, while Cortes balances tension and exasperation in a film where too much of either kills it.
Admittedly, a scene with a snake could have been removed altogether and tightened this thing up to a tidy 90 minutes, but I can understand why Cortes kept it. It serves as an effort to break up the dramatic beats and keep from becoming redundant. Understandable, and that’s a small quip considering we’re talking about a film with one actor wriggling around in a box for 95 minutes. To keep the audience’s attention for that long is no easy chore and it takes guts to tackle content of this sort.
Reynolds has done a good job moving from his younger roles to more adult features. His sarcastic wit is something that played like an arrogant twenty-something early on and it could have transitioned into something of an obnoxious adult. Instead his delivery makes him more likable and this film benefits highly from it as the audience’s frustration grows right along with Paul’s.
I don’t think Buried is something folks that tend to avoid horror films need to worry themselves about, this isn’t a horror. However, it has its moments of claustrophobia. When the lights go down, the screen goes black and you hear Reynolds panting and wheezing in desperation, a certain level of unease kicks in. It’s very effective filmmaking, tapping into both our survival instincts as humans, effectively keeping the heart racing.