Buried (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
18Jan/111

Buried (2010)

ANDREW LIKEDuring my many years of film consumption and contemplation I have only had to stop watching a movie because of its intended effect three times.  The most notable instance of this is Kill Bill Vol. 2 with its scene of The Bride being buried alive.  The sudden distortion of visuals combined with Uma Thurman's screaming sent me into involuntary shakes and I had to leave the theater momentarily to catch my breath.  Now comes Buried, a thriller that outdoes that scene so effectively I'm sure I would not have lasted more than ten minutes with if I watched it in a theater.

Being buried alive is a nightmare so common that it's a wonder it doesn't make it into films more often.  True, there are some good reasons for this.  There's the inherent limitation of space since being buried means that the director is going to have a small area to work with.  This means that the visual dynamic of moving images is faced with a huge problem.  Then there's the casting options, because as limiting the space would be the director is going to have to fill someone with it.  If we can't find some way of empathizing with the individual inside the coffin then the audience is trapped with an unlikable protagonist for an hour and a half (if the film can even stretch things out to that length).

Well, I'm both happy and terrified to report that Buried looks at all the limitations of a "buried alive" film and demolishes them.  That this film works is a stroke of luck, that it manages to succeed brilliantly is nothing less than a miracle.  Ryan Reynolds and Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes have crafted a horrifying film that succeeds in being about more than being buried alive.

Paul Conroy (Reynolds) wakes up after his civilian contractor unit has been ambushed in Iraq.  During the opening moments of the film (shot in pitch black by Cortes) he wakes up in a coffin and finds that he has been left there with a cell phone and other tools.  Soon he's contacted by his kidnapper who demands $5 million for his release and uses the cell phone to attempt an escape - then the sand starts to slowly pour in.

Given that Paul's struggles underground encompass the entire film, Cortes manages to toss some interesting other obstacles in Paul's way (as if, ya know, being buried alive wasn't already enough).  Paul has to deal with his own hysteria and try to master his surroundings in order to be comprehensible to other people.  He also has to speak with disbelieving phone operators that comment on his rudeness.  Then there's the matter of the governmental officials that should be able to help but "don't negotiate with terrorists".

See this? You'll see a lot of it - but trust me, it's a lot more interesting in motion.

None of these events stretch the plausibility of Paul's situation and further highlight exactly how screwed he is with a bit of black humor.  The only steady ally he has throughout his time underground is Dan Brenner (voice by Robert Patterson), a retrieval expert who works with Paul's company to extract people in just these situations.  Dan's role helps the film by giving us a grounded state to look at Paul's situation from.  If it was all hysterics and crying for the whole run time the film would become more of an endurance test that a narrative.

Now I must give special praise to Cortes and his cinematographer Eduard Grau.  In addition to finding ways of making Paul's predicament narratively satisfying, they keep things visually interesting as well.  Directors looking for ways to film enclosed spaces need to use Buried as their Bible.  Cortes and Grau find just about every way of shooting the coffin and even manage to sneak in different ways of lighting the surroundings via Paul's cell phone, lighter and other implements.

The final chunk of the kudos goes to Ryan Reynolds.  I've been a huge fan of his acting for some time now and while he does not have room to be charming, he does have room to make his character fully human.  Yes, it's a very limiting role and Reynolds does have to work within a specific range for the film to be effective but he takes what is given and works wonders with it.

This is the sort of film that, in a sense, makes me very happy that I am the DVD critic.  I know my own limitations and if I was confronted with this film in the theaters I would have missed most of it.  From the safety of my home I merely had to pause once or twice to collect my breath before continuing.  Claustrophobics beware, this film may send you running to the nearest shrink.

Buried (2010)
Directed by Rodrigo Cortes.
Written by Chris Sparling.
Starring Ryan Reynolds.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Just watched this too. I really liked it but as I was watching it, I felt like the walls were closing in on me. A very tense film.


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