With the release of last week’s excellent survival horror Frozen comes another thriller set in one location. But unlike Frozen, which saw three college students dangling off a ski lift in the vast desolate expanse of a winter landscape, Buried sees Ryan Reynolds buried in a coffin in the desert. Alone.
Shot solely within the confines of his wooden prison, Buried unravels in real time. Running out of air and with only a lighter and a mobile phone to keep him company, Paul Conroy (Reynolds) has to figure out who put him there, and more importantly, how he’s going to get out.
Realising that among his meagre assets is a mobile phone, he wracks his brains for who he can call. He calls the FBI, the National Guard, his employer, his wife, anyone in desperation, but will it be enough to get him out of the ground before he becomes worm food?
Reynolds gives an incredible performance as Conroy. His frantic phone calls and mounting desperation and frustration evoke not only horror but a real pathos for his situation. Never has being put on hold been so terrifying. It’s so intense that it’s easy to overlook the minor glitches in plot and occasional lapse in to horror cliché.
Director Rodrigo Cortes manages to make the most of the claustrophobic space. Imaginative camera work, including an excellent point of view shot of Conroy from outside the coffin (not from the surface but from the darkness a few feet above the box) ensures that Buried is much more visually exciting than would have been thought possible. With limited visual space to work with, the sound also comes into its own, whether it’s the crackle of flame from Conroy’s Zippo lighter or the constant trickle of sand leaking into the coffin.
Cortes also understands tension. He wisely shows no shots from outside of the coffin. There are no images of 911 operators or kidnappers, no lingering shots of his wife crying into the phone, no businessmen in suits struggling with the media and no flashbacks to how his convoy was ambushed in the first place. Everything that we see and hear is what Paul sees and hears and because of this we’re transported with him into his six foot prison.
Buried would almost work as well as a radio drama: Reynolds breathing, pleading and desperate yearning for everything just to end is captured perfectly with minimal imagery – the old rule of horror that what you can imagine is far more powerful than what you’re shown rings true.
Cortes has cited the films of Hitchcock, particularly Rope, also shot in real-time, and Lifeboat, shot in a claustrophobic single location, as two major influences. Judging by the result, he’s learned his lessons well from the master. Hitch would be proud.