DVD Review: Filmed entirely in a coffin, Buried could have easily felt like a gimmick, but is instead a tense — if not totally believable — thriller about a U.S. contractor in Iraq who’s trapped six feet under.
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) awakens to find himself in a wooden coffin — buried somewhere in Iraq. And so begins the worst day of his life.
Slowly but surely — and after the inevitable freak-out, complete with screaming at the top of his lungs and violent shaking — Paul calms down, gets acquainted with his surroundings, and realizes that he has a few items with him in his underground prison: a lighter, a cell phone, a canteen, and a knife. For some inexplicable reason (perhaps he’s not that deep? perhaps he doesn’t have AT&T?), the cell phone seems to work, though it cuts out often and is not fully charged.
Paul’s sole mission becomes getting himself rescued. He frantically tries to remember the emergency number given to him by his employer, because the card with that number is now missing from his empty wallet. He tries to reach his wife. He tries to get through to an emergency line in the U.S. And then he receives a call — a call from the man who buried him. This man wants millions of dollars from the American government for Paul’s release, and he wants it in a matter of hours. Paul knows that even without these ransom demands, he probably won’t survive too long in the coffin — there’s only so much oxygen to go around. And the phone’s battery is fading fast.
From the opening scene, Paul’s dire situation will raise one huge question in every audience member’s mind: What would I do? Whether or not you approve of Paul’s tactics may determine your level of connection or frustration with the film. I, for one, found it quite ridiculous that Paul would ever be foolish enough to hang up on someone he’s actually reached — yet he does. I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t he try this?” and “Why doesn’t he do that?”, which means that as a viewer I obviously felt vested in Paul’s fate… but the fact that I disagreed with how he went about trying to secure his escape also means that I lost some sympathy for the character and therefore wasn’t as emotionally moved as I might (should) have been. Maybe I’m just heartless, but I didn’t have a lot of patience for Paul’s temper tantrums.
The most unique thing about Buried is that Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés shot it entirely in a coffin. Let me assure you that the film does not suffer because of this constraint — its sole location is, in fact, its greatest asset. By the end of Buried, you’ll feel like you were right there beside Paul, trapped underground. (Did I already warn claustrophobics to stay far, far away from this movie?)
Cortés was beyond creative with camera angles — and other tricks — to keep the tension high and the pace moving. And I have to hand it to screenwriter Chris Sparling. Even though I wasn’t a fan of some of Paul’s choices, I truly appreciated how often he was sent to somebody’s voice mail, or was put on hold, or had to deal with bureaucratic crap. There were also a few twists concerning his phone conversations that upped the already high tension.
For those wondering if Sparling and Cortés were trying to make any political statement with the film, my answer is that if they were, they didn’t bang the audience over the head with it. I’m not a fan of overt and obvious political sentiments seeping into thrillers, and so thankfully I didn’t feel like any message that was pushed wasn’t believable. For example, one point that is made is that some of the victims of a war are just regular people who aren’t soldiers and don’t have anything to do with any given government’s agenda. That seemed like a reasonable and realistic message to me.
Regardless of whether or not you are surprised by how things turn out for Paul, Buried will affect you. You’ll likely find yourself thinking about it days later… and chances are you’ll still be wondering how in the heck Cortés pulled off such a unique and powerful film — all in the space of a coffin.
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