Anticipation and hype have been building around Buried for some time. Featured on the 2009 Black List, a round up of the top unproduced screenplays of the year, then wowing critics at Sundance last January, it’s one of Ryan Reynolds’ only indie films on the slate and such an unconventional concept, you can’t help but take an interest.
Waking up to find himself buried alive in a coffin, deep underground in the Iraqi countryside, US contractor Paul Conroy’s truck convoy was attacked en route to an aid drop-off, only he can’t remember a thing between blacking out in the ambush and coming to in the wooden box. With nothing but a phone, lighter and pencil left in his pockets, and fighting against a limited oxygen supply, dwindling with every breath, Paul faces a race against time to find out who put him there, how he can get help, and as his life appears to be coming to an end, make contact with his family, half way across the world back home in America.
While in the industry you couldn’t go far without bumping into someone waxing lyrical about excitement for Buried, in the public domain, it certainly hasn’t hit quite yet, but don’t expect that to last. When you walk into the film knowing nothing or having already read the screenplay, you won’t be disappointed.
Filmed entirely within the confines of Conroy’s body sized box, though you’ll hear voices on the other end of the phone, Ryan Reynolds occupies 100% of the screen time. The camera awkwardly pans around Paul’s constrained body and through excellent lighting and cinematography (if you can call it that for a film set entirely within a coffin), director Rodrigo Cortés has managed to create an overpowering sense of claustrophobia that makes the film so effective.
Though badly served by slight amateurish jolting camera movements and zooming, undoing some of his hard work, it’s a fantastic performance from Reynolds under the pressure of knowing his persona would either make or break the film. You can really feel the intensity of the situation and his desperation as he’s mostly powerless to the outcome of the remarkable situation.
Pushing on as details are revealed gradually in telephone conversations with the captors and representatives of hostage rescue teams and his US employers, the plot develops at the perfect pace, with an ending that not only satisfies but is confident enough to drive home the convictions of the narrative as a whole.
Buried is a truly compelling, novel and refreshing experience. It’s a high concept film that stretches its idea over the duration of 90 minutes with ease. It’s not perfect, sure, but it is daring and bold, something you don’t often find in cinema any more, and a movie everyone should experience, if only to marvel at what amazing results can be achieved with such minimalistic filmmaking.