“Buried” is a gimmick. Hitchcock did it to great effect in “Lifeboat” and “Rope” while Joel Schumacher had a reasonable attempt with “Phone Booth”. The best example in recent years was the surprising “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”. The premise: construct an entire film around one set and a limited group of actors. “Buried” takes this idea to its extreme. One man buried alive inside an old wooden coffin.
As the poster economically sets out, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is buried alive. He is injured, his Zippo lighter is running out and so is his mobile phone battery. Time is not on his side.
Usually such an idea would appear in a slick thriller and would rapidly shift focus from the man in the coffin to the rescue team racing against the clock to save him. In “Buried”, we remain inside the coffin for the entirety of the film’s running time, with Reynolds the only actor onscreen. This is an impressive feat and one that makes “Buried” something of a curio- you want to see it to see if they pull it off. In short, they do. While watching the film, you get so involved in Paul’s plight and in the well executed suspense sequences that you forget that you have never seen the outside of the coffin. However, in a way, that’s the film’s failing. Film, with or without the equally gimmicky 3D technology, is not a particularly immersive medium. While you do feel claustrophobic during certain sequences, you can’t help but remember that you are stretched out on a comfy cinema seat and that the events onscreen can’t harm you. Presumably, the best way to watch a film like “Buried” is while stuck in a coffin.
As the culprits behind Paul’s imprisonment come to light, the film becomes political. There are some speeches about how the terrorists are just like us and how they shouldn’t be seen as criminals. It all sounds too much like the sloganeering of a pamphleteer. The film doesn’t really take the time to expand on its political message, which is a good thing. The film is a thriller and if audiences wanted to see something more political, they would go see “Lebanon”, which, incidentally, used the same one set idea.
That aside the film is an exciting and entertaining thriller with some very well put together sequences, most notably Paul’s encounter with a snake that has slithered into the coffin. The film also has a cruel side, which may or may not be to your taste but one that will certainly surprise. The ending is difficult but is emotionally and thematically resonant. The director, Rodrigo Cortes, shows of a lot of skills and may be one to watch in the future.
While the film’s attempts to look at the bigger picture may not convince, it does provide an emotionally draining and very entertaining 95 minutes that draws you in from the opening credits and rarely allows its hold to slip.