Sunday, 3 October 2010


Buried features the kind of high concept that would have had Hitchcock rubbing his hands with glee (as opposed to turning in his grave): a contractor (Ryan Reynolds) is kidnapped in Iraq and placed in a coffin with only a mobile phone as his link to the outside world. The get out clause for many an inferior filmmaker would be to twist the narrative and pepper it with flashbacks and cuts to the action unfolding above ground. Not so with helmer Rodrigo Cortes, who chooses to spend the entirety of his movie within the wooden prison itself. It's not hard to imagine that's the point where the Master of Suspense would have started cackling with dark-hued laughter.

Cortes' extraordinary direction, coupled with Reynolds' appropriately nerve-wracking performance, are what lift Buried from the bargain basement into the realms of truly accomplished low-budget cinema. While it might not be entirely original (Hitch himself made Lifeboat along similar terms, albeit with a larger cast), it's not hard to feel the creeping, gut-wrenching dread build from the first frames; actually a pitch black screen that seems to last for a hideous eternity. Of course, when Reynolds' Paul Conroy flicks his lighter on for the first time, the terror doesn't so much subside as intensify. Now's not the time to mention Edgar Allen Poe to the claustrophobics in the audience.

As Conroy frantically attempts contact with the police, FBI, his employers and his family, Chris Sparling's script makes the first of several nifty twists that distract from its familiarity: the kidnappers contact him. Piecing events together, he realises he is being held to ransom, in all likelihood threatening to become another 'missing person' statistic abandoned in the desert. Political context is present but refreshingly, it's largely held in the background as part of that other film we're not seeing. Instead, this is a fight for survival of the most desperate kind.

Reynolds is remarkably fraught throughout, clearly feeding off the limited confines of the location. For his part, Cortes is merciless - and quite brilliant - at exploiting every nook and cranny not only of the box but of his star, moving from his scuffed, stubbly visage to his rapidly dilating eyeball. At one point, we're by his feet; the next, in a terrifying moment of surrealism, we track upwards above the coffin lid, giving full reign to the phrase 'six feet under'. It's a collage of brilliantly inventive angles and lighting (if it's not the lighter, it's the sickly green hue of glow sticks left by the kidnappers) that hearkens back to genuine, nuts and bolts film making.

And while Sparling's script threatens to become overwrought and cliched in the latter stages, that wonderfully primal fear continues to mount to horrifying proportions. Hear that audible gasping for air as audiences leave the cinema? That's a sound that Hitchcock would have cherished.

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