Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Screenwriters: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, José Luis García Pérez, Robert Paterson
Buried opens with a solid thirty seconds of darkness and silence. Those who find their patience tested by this — and there were a few hooting-and-hollering malcontents at the promo screening I attended — are likely to find their frustration building to a simmer and then a boil during the 88-minute film. Once the screen fades to black again, those folks are the ones likely to roll their eyes and emit grunts of indignation. “If I had paid for that movie, I would’ve been pissed” was one representative comment overheard afterward by your intrepid correspondent.
Film buffs of a certain ilk are probably getting excited right about now, and for good reason. Not because Buried angered the rubes, but because the types of responses I’m describing are often directed at movies that are genuinely committed to a vision.
So it is here. Buried is about a dude who is kidnapped, deposited into a 10x4x2 wooden coffin, and stuck underground. And so help me, we spend 100% of our time underground with him. I’m not claustrophobic, but during the first 10 minutes or so of the film, I had to reassure myself by breathing deep and stretching out my arms.
The poor sap — the only character to ever appear on screen — is named Paul, and is played by an appropriately manic Ryan Reynolds. Paul wakes up in his prison, and at first can only infer how he ended up there. He has with him a Zippo lighter, a cell phone (not his), and a flask half full of booze. The cell phone has a fleeting signal. The walls of the coffin are impenetrable, sturdy and held fast by several feet of earth.
How exactly Paul spends the film’s 88 minutes it’s best not to describe. But be assured that the movie, directed with an uncommon stubbornness by Rodrigo Cortes, is a fully-fledged piece of survival horror. What it lacks in plausibility — the fact that Paul has no water is mysteriously never even raised — it makes up by getting us to feel, really feel, the raw terror of being stuck in a dark, tiny wooden box with no real prospect of escape. Part of the beauty of the horror genre is that it can just be as simple as that, and no worse off for it.
Buried is also, somewhat astonishingly, a politically charged allegory, making a pointed statement about how the Iraq War devolved into an orgy of ass-covering that left everyday folks — soldiers and civilians, at home and abroad — holding the bag. How the movie gets there from here it is again best left unsaid. But while its subtext is fairly obvious, this is not a message picture. It lets us do most of the work while we marvel at the audacity and perhaps foolishness of infusing such a killer, commercial high concept with controversial political undertones.
And that’s what makes Buried feel so fresh and even dangerous: not the content of its politics, but the fact that it has some. Cortes is not just messing around with crowdpleasing genre film tropes. Watching his movie, we feel distinctly the absence of a safety net — anything can happen. Which will drive some audiences crazy, but which delighted me.