But when he wakes up six feet underground with no idea of who put him there or why, life for the truck driver and family man instantly becomes a hellish struggle for survival. Buried with only a cell phone and a lighter, his contact with the outside world and ability to piece together clues that could help him discover his location are maddeningly limited. Poor reception, a rapidly draining battery, and a dwindling oxygen supply become his worst enemies in a tightly confined race against time; fighting panic, despair and delirium, Paul has only ninety minutes to be rescued before his worst nightmare comes true.
‘Buried’ was pretty much all that I hoped it would be. Full disclosure: my expectations weren’t that high. I’m not a fan of Ryan Reynolds and I couldn’t imagine that 90 minutes alone with him stuck in a box could possibly be as good as it should be. But I dared hope that it would be penned in a clever enough way and that it would be put together skillfully, thereby limiting the impact of Reynold’s acting (in)ability.
It started off rocky, however: the first thing we are exposed to are the sounds of shuffling in the dark. Then we hear Reynolds struggling with a lighter, clearly in a panic. When we finally see him, gagged and bound, my first thought was “How did he get to his lighter? His hands were tied TOGETHER. And with little room for mobility, he likely couldn’t reach in a pocket”. I barely noticed that he didn’t remove his gag first (which would be my first reaction, were the tables turned).
Then he started to yelp and panic like an animal. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, if one wakes up in an unknown space, wouldn’t the first thing to do be to assess the situation? Not this guy, though. No, this guy doesn’t think – he reacts. I guess it was decided that it made for a more exciting performance, even it wasn’t fitting. Of course, as I was about to find out, this guy rarely acted in ways that would seem logically, given his situation. Maybe it’s typical behaviour, and I’m not an average person, but this seemed hardly rational.
This was not helped by the fact that Reynolds is not an entirely convincing thespian. He is, let’s not forget, Van Wilder – and I didn’t even think he was any good there. Stuck in a box and pretending to panic, shout, cry, hyperventilate, …etc., he absolutely didn’t get me on board; if anything, I watched it in spite of him. I believe that many other actors could have made of this role an award-winning performance. Reynolds was not entirely up to the task. It was, however, my favourite performance of his so far (for what that’s worth ).
The film mostly held up due to the director’s work in creating tension and finding novel ways to shoot a mundane, static setting. By using various angles, with the help of limited lighting, and with the use of different sizes of coffins, Rodrigo Cortés managed to keep the proceedings speeding along, building momentum and sustaining the tension all the way through to the final few moments. It’s a tour de force for any director, when one considers that the film consists of a man in a box for ninety minutes.
Aside from the afore-mentioned soft performance from Reynolds, and his character’s irrational behaviour (i.e. trying to push through the top of the box, even though it was weighed down by dirt? Why not push the sides instead?), only one key scene bothered me in ‘Buried’: the snake sequence.
Let me explain:
At one point our protagonist discovers that a snake has made its way into the box and is slithering through his clothes. Then he finds out that there was a huge gap in the side of the box, from which the snake slipped in. I couldn’t help but wonder why he/we hadn’t seen this hole before, and why the snake would make its way to the top of the box only to go all the way down the guy’s clothes (I mean, I know a few women who would go to such lengths to get into Reynold’s pants, but really! ). I found this sequence too gimmicky and ridiculous to believe and, thus, it pulled me out of the experience temporarily.
Otherwise, I’d say that ‘Buried’ is quite the riveting film. It’s a suspenseful picture, and yet it’s not nearly as well-conceived as other survival films such as ‘127 Hours’ or ‘Open Water’. In this case, it’s not the director’s fault one bit – the issue remains a casting and script issue. Actually, if not for Cortés’ skilled hand, this motion picture could have devolved into cinematic tripe. Thankfully, his ingenuity overcame all odds and turned this potential straight-to-video offering into something worth seeing. I’m going to keep my eye on him; I’m very keen to see what Cortés will be up to next.