Rodrigo Cortes’ new film, Buried, is the kind of movie I imagine Alfred Hitchcock would watch with a smile on his face. It does more with one actor and setting than most thrillers could do with a dozen. It is wonderfully controlled film by a director with only one other feature under his belt, and acted to perfection by a star known more for his raunchy humor than his pathos.
The story is as simple as it gets. American contractor Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up in a coffin, buried underground somewhere in Iraq. He has with him only a cell phone, a flashlight, and a flask (which is what I’d go for first). Conroy learns he has been kidnapped and is being held for a pricey ransom, and that if he does not find a way to escape he will run out of oxygen and die.
And that’s it. That’s the movie: no cutaways, no other actors on screen (except for voices)– nothing but Reynolds in a box. It may sound like the premise could go stale after about 20 minutes, but Cortes’ direction, coupled with Reynolds performance, make the films 90 minute running time blaze past, keeping you on the edge of your seat, more and more invested in Conroy’s cause as the film goes on.
It is pitch-perfect direction from Cortes, playing the suspense game like a master of the art. He utilizes ingenious camera work to maximize the claustrophobic effect of the coffin; compared to Buried, The Descent seems like a stroll through an open field. Cortes also proves himself a master at managing the tempo and rhythm of the film, which is absolutely essential in keeping the film’s momentum and suspense going. From the moment it starts until the moment it ends, you’ll be able to count your breaths.
But all of Cortes’ work would be for naught if Ryan Reynolds didn’t deliver an absolutely brilliant performance. Working with nothing but his own body and the occasional voice over the phone, he delivers a performance that ranges from brilliantly intimate to explosively desperate and volatile. It makes you wonder if this was the same guy responsible for Van Wilder. It has the potential to be a career changer, or at least open the door for films that aren’t Definitely, Maybe.
This combination of directive ingenuity and bold acting make Buried a unique kind of horror film. Nothing jumps out at you, there is hardly any on screen violence, and even the violence that’s there isn’t overtly graphic. Rather, the film frightens us because it plays with our most basic fears: isolation, a slow death. Above all, it is about the horror of hopelessness.
To say much more would be to speak too much, because the film is better if you know none of its secrets. As Halloween rolls around it’s safe to assume there will be plenty of cookie-cutter slasher films and gore-fests hitting theaters; but if you’re wise, you’ll avoid those in favor of Buried. This is the one that will stay with you once you get home. This is the one that will keep you up at night, wondering if your bedroom is suddenly looking smaller; if the walls are closing to box you in. It is a fine film and a remarkable achievement for both Cortes and Reynolds, and a relentlessly exciting experience that you would do yourself right by seeing.
Tight, tense and unnerving, Buried is a masterclass in suspenseful storytelling: A-