Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
Runtime: 94 Minutes
There’s only so much a film set entirely in a coffin can do, but Buried succeeds in just about doing it all. Rodrigo Cortés delivers a gripping and surprisingly watchable picture, creating unbearable tension from situations as mundane as being put on hold and running out of battery on a phone.
Paul Conroy, a truck driver working in Iraq, wakes up one morning to find he has been buried alive six feet beneath the ground. The following 90 minutes, set in real time, follow his desperate attempts to be rescued, meeting obstacles as varied as trying to change the language settings on his mobile from Arabic to English, to the arrival of a snake who slithers in the coffin for company.
Buried has been masterfully put together. Not once does the camera venture out of the coffin, meaning that the audience’s perception is as confined as Conroy’s, and that they too are subject to the same claustrophobic atmosphere. Objects onscreen have been used by Cortés in a similarly effective way; the dim flicker of Conroy’s lighter illuminates only a very small amount of space; the constantly vibrating phone acts as a precursor to a development in the plot; and a broken torch, which frequently stops working, adds to the sense of anxiety and frustration. Music too is used effectively to accompany moments of particular tension, without ever being overly relied upon. The film is paced perfectly too, the intensity of events increasing as Conroy’s situation becomes more and more critical.
Ryan Reynolds produces an excellent performance as Conroy, displaying the terror, desperation and occasional helplessness one would expect to experience upon being buried alive. Much of his role consists of grunts and cries of fear, interspersed with anxious conversations on the phone. Importantly, Reynolds succeeds in making his character seem real. He is no Uma Thurman’s Bride from Kill Bill: Volume 2, who has less difficulty breaking out of her coffin and digging herself to the surface than Conroy does readjusting his position. He is an ordinary guy, a simple truck driver with a wife and two kids to feed.
Buried also has a political element, as it cynically represents the U.S. diplomats as more interested in keeping Conroy’s situation out of the public domain than in finding and saving him. Although this does add another dimension, it is perhaps an unnecessary one, for the film works well as a simple thriller, with empathy for Conroy being the audience’s major concern rather than the consideration of the bigger political picture. The dark humour, however does work, and the film can even be seen as a satire of modern bureaucracy, as Conroy is subject to a series of absurd conversations and procedures.
The ending will divide opinion, but most will agree that Buried remains absorbing and suspenseful throughout, with Conroy’s fate left in the balance right up until the final moments of the film. Above anything else, Cortés deserves praise for ensuring this thriller contains genuinely thrilling action for the entirety of the film, in spite of obvious limitations. A very impressive feat.