I’m buried in a box. I’m buried in a box!
Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés has pulled off quite a feat with his debut film Buried. Setting a film six feet underground with only one character spanning the entirety of the film’s duration is a brave experiment.
From the Hitchcock style credits to opening on a black screen, it’s then where you realise you’re going to spend ninety minutes in the presence of one man in a coffin. It’s hard not to be sceptical, especially when an idea is so reliant on its execution. What follows however, is one of the more unique and visually arresting films of the year.
Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver working for Iraqi contractors CRT who finds himself gagged in a coffin with just a mobile, an assortment of lights, pills (he suffers from anxiety attacks) and a pen. He receives a call from his kidnapper demanding $5 million dollars within the next ninety minutes otherwise they’ll leave him to die. It’s a curious setup (which reminds me in a way of David R. Ellis Cellular) and Cortés extracts as much tension and drama as he possibly can.
Reynolds plays a character we don’t see him play too often, one that feels ‘real’. Conroy is anxious and desperate to get free; but can also be callous but importantly never comes across as unlikable. Reynolds demands your attention, conveying a sense of frustration at not being able to effect a change in the situation as well as using his comedic timing to alleviate the more unsettling parts. He’s battered and bloody with Cortés effectively using close ups to emphasize the tight and claustrophobic nature of being stuck in a coffin. It is an intensely physical performance as well as an emotional one.
He’s helped by his supporting cast all of whom we don’t see but hear adding to this sense of the world still revolving while Conroy lays still in his predicament. Stephen Tobolowsky is great, acting as a rather disingenuous and smarmy CRT management person who delivers some upsetting news for Conroy.
There are times where the sentimentality begins to creep in, which is fine considering the nature of the story but you’re wary of these elements clashing with the more intense scenes. Also you’ll need to suspend your disbelief as to how a phone could work underground.
They are minor problems which don’t detract from the experience and that is down to Cortés. His inventive use of the camera (a 360˚ shot of the camera panning around the coffin is stunning) as well as using different lights (the phone screen, a lighter, some luminous lights) to provide a specific look to scenes and add variety.
Buried is a tight, engaging and frequently brutal suspense film. One of the more unique films of the year that after a summer of underwhelming films will reignite any feelings that originality and brave storytelling can still be found in our cinemas today.