Buried is literally a 90 minute movie about a man trapped in a coffin. The premise alone might limit the appeal to general audiences, but director Rodrigo Cortes employs several clever plot twists to maximize the suspense and solitary actor Ryan Reynolds offers forth a full range of emotions that expressively displays the nature of his terrifying ordeal. Buried is scary, intelligent, and creative in its methods of building tension and toying with the viewer’s anticipations. It is also rather manipulative, perhaps overly political, and prone to padding the runtime with a few too many unnecessary gimmicks. Regardless of your appreciation for the reasons behind the protagonist’s claustrophobic crisis, it’s impossible not to feel something (whether it be sympathy, pity, remorse, or otherwise) for the lone soul perched on the brink of salvation and damnation – and because of that, Buried succeeds. The story is simple and diabolic: An American contractor working in Baqubah, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) awakens to find himself buried alive in a wooden coffin somewhere in the Iraqi desert. With little room to move and equipped only with a lighter, a cell phone, and a few hours of air, panic gradually gives way to determination and Paul begins a desperate quest to find help.
It opens with a Hitchcockian title sequence and unnerving music to match (the theatrical poster art is also reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Vertigo), revealing only a single star. Ryan Reynolds, who is understandably most notable for comedies, handles himself ably in a film that revolves around a single, simple idea, based on one character and one location. It’s a testament to his acting that an entire feature is wholly watchable even when the camera essentially never turns away from Reynolds. Buried trumps the low-budget, independent movie notions of films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project by decreasing the cast, the crew, the sets and the props down to an unimaginably low number. What was the budget for Buried? Probably little more than Reynold’s paycheck.
It’s related to the torture porn genre in that focusing on a human suffering through being buried alive for half-an-hour is a form of protracted, bloodless but agonizing mental torture. It may not be physical, but it’s certainly more realistic. Paul is given plenty of opportunities to develop into a relatable, sympathetic man, which surpasses the run-of-the-mill victims in the typical Saw movie. Aware of his situation and coming to terms with hopelessly, helplessly dying, a psychological thriller unfolds, delving into genuine suspense and white-knuckle anxiety, usually absent in generic horror flicks.
Understandably, dark humor works its way into Reynold’s dialogue, the FBI and phone operators have a difficult time comprehending his situation, and the camera circles the coffin to reveal the incredibly tight space. Since the setup is uncomplicated, viewers will probably start to nitpick certain questionable elements for authenticity. Could there really be enough oxygen in the coffin to sustain Conroy for the length of the movie (it’s not shot in real time, so his actual containment is much longer than that)? Does he really need to use a lighter and the glowing cell phone simultaneously? Could a creature really burrow its way into the coffin? Regardless, the fact that an entertaining movie can be made with such an uncluttered plot and with a single character and a single setting is impressive enough.- The Massie Twins