You’ve got to admire the decision to release Buried on Valentine’s Day. Despite the presence of broad-shouldered man candy, Ryan Reynolds, this lean, aggressive 90-minute thriller is far from the perfect date movie.
A luckless truck driver working in Iraq, Paul Conroy (Reynolds) wakes up in a coffin after his convoy was attacked by insurgents. With little more than a mobile phone, a Zippo lighter and a pen for company, Reynolds struggles desperately to first make sense of his situation, and then find a way out of it before he runs out of air.
In a nutshell, that’s all there is to the plot. Like Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, Buried is about a single character trapped in one location, and is therefore as much about a man fighting the brick wall of his own blind panic as it is about freeing himself, and there’s an air of Franz Kafka’s The Trial about Chris Sparling’s script. As Conroy tries to raise help on his mobile phone, he faces bureaucracy, answer machines and unhelpful call centre staff, whose responses to the protagonist’s cries for help are sometimes blackly comic.
There’s a real thread of absurdity running through director Rodrigo Cortés’ film, in fact, a streak of dark humour that recalls that master of suspense, Hitchcock.
Never leaving the stifling confines of Conroy’s wooden prison, Cortés and cinematographer Eduard Grau find remarkably inventive ways of sustaining audience interest. Reynolds’ bloodied, filthy face becomes like a landscape, the camera swooping and gliding over his pores and seldom leaving his panic-stricken face. Beneath Grau’s lens, the sand that seeps into the coffin looks like little hillocks and dunes.
Entire sequences are shot in complete darkness, others are lit by the ethereal glow of failing torches, glow sticks and flickering cigarette lighters. It’s this obsessive attention to detail that makes an apparently unfilmable premise so fascinating to watch.
Reynolds’ performance, too, is genuinely excellent. With the camera seldom cutting away from him, he’s left to carry the film entirely by himself. And make no mistake, Buried stands and falls on the quality of its casting. Reynolds runs the gamut of emotions – desperation, despair, anger, exhaustion – and his portrayal is easily the equal of James Franco’s turn in 127 Hours.
An inventive, gripping thriller that derives tension from the most mundane activities (answering a phone, shifting positions in a combined space, or battering the life back into a faulty torch), Buried is a film that quickens the pulse without resorting to explosions, gory deaths or car chases.
For such a technically challenging film, extras on the Buried disc are in surprisingly short supply, amounting to a brief ‘making-of’ documentary, an interview with director Rodrigo Cortés, and a theatrical trailer.
The documentary affords an interesting enough insight into Buried‘s grim shoot, but the brevity is a disappointment. Reynolds essentially spent 17 days trapped in a darkened box while he was showered with sand and earth. A more in-depth look into that process would have been appreciated.
Cortés proves to be an engaging interviewee, though much of what he says is repeated in the documentary, which leads to a weird sense of déjà vu. A feature commentary from the director would have been great, but sadly, none is included.
A stingy selection of extras aside, Buried is worth picking up if you missed it at the cinema. It’s one of the most inventive, tense thrillers to appear in years.
Buried will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 14 February, and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.
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