Review by Jack Foley
IN CONCEPT Buried sounds like a brilliant idea. A man wakes up in a coffin, buried in the middle of a desert. What to do next?
In design, however, maintaining the tension for a full 90 minutes is a big ask, especially when you make the creative decision not to depart from the coffin. Full credit to Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes, then, for taking an “impossible idea” and turning it into one of the most harrowing films of the year.
Buried treats its concept seriously. It’s a grim predicament for a central protagonist to be in and Cortes makes sure you feel his pain, his claustrophobia, his anger… every emotion basically.
Hence, you’ll be gasping for breath, screaming for fresh air and praying for the nightmare to end… while marvelling at just how Cortes manages to keep you hooked for the duration of the movie.
True, a certain suspension of belief is required at several points in the movie (and we’ll get to that later), but Buried marks a technical tour-de-force for a fearless new filmmaker… as well as an acting tour-de-force for its one and only star: Ryan Reynolds.
Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver and family man, who wakes up buried alive in an old wooden coffin in the middle of the Iraq desert. Not knowing who put him there, or why, his only chance of escape is the cell-phone he finds conveniently located within.
But with poor reception, a fading battery and a lack of oxygen, Paul faces a race against time to save himself or perish in one of the worst ways imaginable.
In the central role, Reynolds is quite simply sensational. Having emerged as a bona fide A-list star last year (off the back of commercial hits The Proposal and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), he could have taken the easy route and stuck firmly with blockbusters.
Instead, he jetted out to Barcelona to give his all to Buried, both physically and mentally. To describe his subsequent performance as Oscar-worthy seems like small praise. To predict that he will probably be overlooked is disappointing, but likely.
But Reynolds ensures that we feel every emotion that he experiences: whether it’s fear, anger, hope, acceptance… you name it. He’s a desperate man in a desperate situation and we genuinely root for him throughout.
Cortes, too, deserves maximum praise for the way in which he keeps the tension and the suspense cranked up the max. He openly cites Hitchcock as an inspiration and it’s no small praise to say that there are Hitchcockian moments.
But Cortes also stamps his own sense of identity on proceedings, just as contemporaries like David Fincher did with Se7en. Buried is often unbearable because it puts you in the box with Conroy.
Its establishing shot, for instance, is a neat cinematic trick: a black screen with only Conroy’s heavy breathing for company. It immediately has you catching your own breath, sitting uncomfortably in your seat.
What light there subsequently is comes from either Paul’s lighter, a torch he finds, or a mobile phone or glow-light. Hence, the screen flickers and switches off at several points, leaving you in the same darkness as Conroy.
The sense of containment felt by Conroy, too, is marked by the claustrophobic nature of Cortes’ direction… which doesn’t give its star an inch. Items are frequently just out of reach… and require a feat of determination to grab. But you feel the pain required to get them.
Likewise, you feel Conroy’s frustrations with those he can contact in the outside world – as much for their naivety and stupidity as their impatience and cruelty (in at least two cases).
Of the leaps of faith that Cortes invites you to make, perhaps the greatest concerns the battery life and call range of Conroy’s phone… or one of the film’s main surprises, which while adding an extra layer of harrowing, perhaps stretches credibility to breaking point.
But given the sterling work of leading man and director, such indulgences are deserved. Buried is the real deal – a concept movie that actually takes the concept and the audience seriously.
Enter with this in mind and you just might survive, for this is dark, often painful viewing that genuinely chills – and it’ll stay with you for some time afterwards.
Cortes has crafted a grim, grotesque but utterly compelling movie experience – but one that’s not to be entered lightly (or without an inhaler if you suffer from any breathing condition!).
Running time: 94mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: February 14, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Rodrigo Cortes interview
- Buried Photo Gallery